Sea Turtle Hatchlings Struggle to Make it to the Gulf

Local volunteer Johnny Springfield, alleges that hotel and condo lights in Okaloosa Island are becoming disoriented and accidentally crawling to their deaths instead of towards the Gulf of Mexico. As a volunteer that helps monitor the turtle nests on the island, Springfield shared a Facebook post stating that at least 100 baby sea turtles could’ve fallen victim to the nearby lights. Naturally predisposed to follow the moon’s glow on the water, the hatchlings are easily confused by condo and hotel lights. 

“They don’t hear the water. They don’t smell the water. They go toward the moonlight,” Springfield said of a turtle nest near the park. “I got a call at 6 a.m. saying they had turtles everywhere on the beach. I got up and went out there, but we didn’t find many. Birds and ghost crabs get them if they go into the sand dunes. We know that 69 hatched, and I have rumors that maybe 20 were saved. When they follow those lights, it’s a death sentence. It’s an absolute death sentence,” said Springfield. 

After a few nights, another nest hatched and those baby turtles were confused by the bright lights as well. Not all is lost, experts planned to examine the nests and estimate how many have perished in the dunes as they work towards a solution. About 20 to 30 hatchlings were saved by beach workers, Springfield believes. 

On another sad occurrence, a beach worker found one of the baby turtles trying to cross the heavily-trafficked U.S. Highway 98 across the hotels. Another baby turtle was discovered trapped inside the remnants of a plastic milk jug. “Only one out of 1,000 sea turtles makes it to maturity. We had six nests on Okaloosa Island with 100 turtles in each nest. In a stituation like this, if two are destroyed by lights, that cuts us down to four nests. We might not get any to survive out of the whole generation,” Springfield added. 

Mothers can also get disoriented while they crawl up the beach to make their nests. In 2019 Okaloosa Island reported about 12 to 15 falso crawls — this is when a turtle does not lay eggs on the beach and returns to the water due to distractions. “From Okaloosa Island to Destin, you have thousands of people walking on the beach with flashlights. It disturbs the turtles and they go back into the water. If you look out there at night and stand on the balcony, it looks like an interstate. It needs to be fixed,” Springfield lamented. 

A possible solution? Replacing distracting white lights from hotels and condos with red and orange bulbs, an approach that has been successful in the Florida Keys. Sea turtles cannot see red or orange light, thus lessening the chances that they’ll crawl away from the ocean and to their deaths.