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Sea turtle nesting sites destroyed by beach vacationers – Alabama authorities urge caution

Sea turtle nesting sites destroyed by beach vacationers – Alabama authorities urge caution
Sea turtle nesting sites destroyed by beach vacationers – Alabama authorities urge caution

A photo circulating on social media of a sea turtle on a beach in Alabama has caused outrage.

The image shows a large sea turtle that came to shore to nest on the Fourth of July. It never laid its eggs after being surrounded by a group of people who flashed lights at it, says Shannon Holbrook, fish and wildlife biologist with the Alabama Ecological Services Field Office.

“They see this amazing animal coming out of the water. They’re so excited. Everyone has a cell phone. They want to take a picture and follow it. They’re so eager to witness this incredible experience and they don’t realize that this is really disturbing the sea turtle,” Holbrook said.

Most people who live along the Gulf Coast know the effects artificial light can have on sea turtles. It can disorient hatchlings on their way to the ocean and disturb brooding mothers. Holbrook believes many of the people seen in the photo probably had no idea they were doing anything wrong.

“Whenever you shine a light on her or get too close and make a lot of noise, she just says, ‘Forget it,’ turns around and goes back to the water,” she said.

Unfortunately, Holbrook says the sea turtle returning to the ocean without laying its eggs could mean it dropped the clutch into the water. The Alabama Ecological Services Field Office recognized that this incident was an opportunity to educate others.

“One of my jobs that I’ve been working on for some time is to educate people about this. All sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act, so we try to do everything we can,” Holbrook said.

According to the Alabama Coastal Foundation, the organization that monitors sea turtle nests along the coast, there are three species of sea turtles that nest on Alabama’s coast: green sea turtles, Atlantic ridley turtles and loggerhead turtles, like the one pictured. From May through October, beachgoers should be on the lookout for nesting sea turtles.

“Stay ten meters back. Just give her some space. Turn off the lights, no light is best for the sea turtle, and just watch.”

In 2023, seven adult female sea turtles became disoriented due to artificial lighting, according to the ACF.

NBC 15 News at 6

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