Sea turtles are some of the most majestic sea animals to encounter. Made popular by books and movies like The Last Song and Finding Nemo, travelers love to see these incredible creatures in the wild.
If you’d like to see sea turtles in North America, summertime is the ideal season for heading to the beach. Sea turtles lay eggs at the beginning of summer. The eggs will stay underground in the sand until they hatch, typically about two months later.
Here are some of the best places to see sea turtles this summer:
North Carolina – The beaches of North Carolina are home to hundreds of sea turtle nests each summer. Most of the turtles come to shore in June to lay their eggs, and the eggs can hatch any time from mid-July to early September. We recommend Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, Topsail Island or Wilmington area beaches.
South Carolina – The South Carolina coast receives more than 1,000 nests each year. With a similar climate and tidal pattern to North Carolina, South Carolina’s sea turtles begin nesting in May and hatch through August. We suggest visiting Cape Island, Kiawah Island near Charleston, or Hilton Head Island, since those locations tend to receive more nests.
Florida – Florida is a great place to see sea turtles, especially if you’re already going there on vacation. With warmer coastal waters, sea turtle nesting season in Florida is longer, running from March through October. The highest number of sea turtle nests can typically be found in the areas near Port St. Joe, Englewood, Palm Bay, Jupiter and Dry Tortugas National Park. Plus you can join the experts on Turtle Walks at San Sebastian Inlet.
Sea Turtle Safety
You’ll recognize sea turtle nests along the beach because they’re often marked with wire nets or wooden frames. These are set up by wildlife agencies to keep away predators like raccoons, coyote and more. It’s against the law to tamper with sea turtle nests, so stick to observation – don’t touch! You can often look at the date the nest was laid, so then you can try to calculate an approximate hatching date (+60 days, typically).
If you’re staying in a house or hotel on the beach, it’s important to be aware of all exterior lights. Sea turtles navigate by the light of the moon, so bright lights can cause them to head away from the ocean. When walking on the beach, cover your flashlight with colored plastic wrap for a colored beam that’s less distracting to the turtles.
Beach litter also can be very dangerous for sea turtles and other ocean animals. Sea turtles eat a lot of jellyfish, and often mistake plastic bags in the ocean as edible. The rings from soda pop cans are also incredibly harmful, because the rings can get caught around turtles’ necks. Growing up, my siblings, cousins and I had a contest every night to see who could pick up the most trash on our evening beach walks with the family. It’s a great way to entertain the kids while helping out animals like the beloved sea turtle.