PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — One of the biggest beach weekends of the year is just around the corner: The 2022 Memorial Day weekend.
Yet, holidays like it are a big concern for wildlife experts, especially since Memorial Day coincides with both sea turtle and shorebird nesting seasons.
Wildlife conservationists say it’s up to all of us to protect the species and ensure their babies can survive and thrive.
On Redington Shores, there is a colony of 500 black skimmers. Many are sitting on nests right now and within a few weeks, the birds will welcome adorable baby chicks.
Florida Audubon’s Shorebird Program Manager Holley Short said it’s her favorite time of the year.
“To see these little fluffy chicks that are the same color as the sand waddling around and waiting on mom and dad to bring them fish to eat. It’s amazing to watch,” she said.
Yet, Short hopes beachgoers will watch the black skimmers from a distance. The bird colony is roped off, but if the birds get too scared, they’ll abandon their colony and may not find another place to nest. Once the babies are born, the chicks often blend in with the sand.
It doesn’t take much to startle them.
“They have been spooked by kites, beach balls, fireworks can cause an entire colony to abandon their eggs and even their chicks,” Short added.
You also want to pick up any trash and not leave any items on the beach overnight. That will go a long way towards protecting sea turtles, too.
“Those things can act as obstacles to adults and hatchling sea turtles,” Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program Manager Lindsey Flynn said.
It’s sea turtle and shorebird nesting season! With #MemorialDayWeekend right around the corner, @audubonsociety and @CMAquarium want you to help them protect their crucial nests. STORY @abcactionnews 6:15PM. pic.twitter.com/sNzOXWXO35— Sarah J. Hollenbeck (@SarahHollenbeck) May 24, 2022
For sea turtles, it is critical to keep the beach dark at night. Even flashlights and cell phone lights can cause a hatchling to get disoriented and move away from the shoreline instead of towards it.
Wildlife experts say it’s also important to knock down any sandcastles and fill in any holes from your umbrella or sand creations.
“You can imagine such a small animal falling into a hole that seems small to you but seems like the Grand Canyon to them," Flynn said. "Turtles aren’t so good at backing up or moving around on the sandy beach because they have flippers instead of feet so if they fall into a hole, it is very difficult for them to get out."
Florida is home to 90% of the nesting sea turtles in North America, according to Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Just a few weeks ago, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium shared a video taken by beach visitor Billy Brown of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle covering her nest on Longboat Key. They’re the rarest sea turtles in the world.
“Since we are of the primary nesting sites in the world, it’s really important we do everything we can to protect our nests,” Flynn said.
With booming tourism and COVID-19 driving record numbers of people to the beach, the nests are more threatened than ever. Wildlife conservationists say the animals' future is in your hands.
“Cross off your good deed for the day. Pick up some trash, have your kids fill in a few extra holes," she said. It can be a fun experience too."
Last year, Clearwater Marine Aquarium says they tracked 275 sea turtle nests along 21 miles of Pinellas County’s coastline. Most of those were Loggerhead Sea Turtles, one was a Green Sea Turtle nest.
There are several numbers you can call if you see an animal in distress, a problem with a nest or another issue. They include:
- CMA Rescue Hotline: 727-441-1790 ext 1
- FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-3922