Florida’s shores rate among North America’s most prolific sea turtle nesting areas. From spring to fall, thousands of loggerhead, green and leatherback turtles wash ashore in the dark of night to lay eggs by the tens of thousands. It’s a particularly critical nursery for threatened loggerheads; close to 90 percent nest in the state.
Yet a lighted canyon of high-rise hotels in Miami Beach encroaches on the creatures’ maternity ward. Noise from traffic along A1A and other roadways bordering the surf fatally disorients newborn hatchlings. The commotion also shoos away mothers seeking to lay their eggs in peace and quiet.
Those infant turtles lucky enough to hatch scurry out to sea, doggedly regaining their senses from the rumbling surf that tosses and flips them around. Their journey starts with a two-day swim to find and secure themselves onto an island of floating algae, which will be their home for up to two years. From there they will move clockwise across the Atlantic, ultimately returning to the Florida Gulf Stream. But less than one percent of the survivors are estimated to make it to adulthood.
Miami-Dade County’s sea turtle awareness program schedules walks, presentations and a sea turtle release program for a nominal cost. It isn’t surprising to see such ecotourism become something of a craze. No other oceanic animal, other than porpoises and sharks, elicits sympathy and empathy like the lovable turtle.