Sea turtle nesting season runs May 1 through Oct. 31. Locally, nesting activity peaks in July and hatching activity peaks in August and September. Turtles are also present in local waterways year-round and can be seen foraging around seagrass beds, oyster reefs and nearshore reefs (natural and artificial).
Sea Turtle Life Cycle
Females who are ready to nest will emerge from the Gulf after sunset and seek out a suitable nesting location. She will dig a nest with her back flippers and lay up to 120 eggs. Once all her eggs are laid, she will bury the nest and carefully cover her tracks before making her way back into the Gulf.
After about 60 days, the hatchlings will emerge all at once and race for the Gulf of Mexico. Predators like seagulls, ghost crabs and raccoon line up to try and grab hatchlings before they make it to the water. For the males, this will be the only time they will touch dry land. If they make it to the water, they will spend the rest of their lives at sea.
Once safely in the Gulf, hatchlings will spend the next several days in a “swimming frenzy.” This will get them away from dangerous nearshore waters and into open water. Here they will spend the next decade hiding and feeding in floating mats of algae and growing big enough to avoid most predators.
Once about 10 years old, turtles will return to nearshore areas, where they will spend the rest of their lives migrating between nearshore foraging areas and offshore breeding grounds. When they reach sexual maturity (10-25+ years) females will return to the beaches they hatched from to lay their own eggs and begin the cycle all over again.
Learn more about the four species of sea turtles that nest of Escambia County beaches.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta carretta)
- Loggerheads are one of the larger marine turtles: adults can be up to 4 feet long and 350 lbs.
- They get their name from their powerful jaws, which they use to crack open the shells of their favorite prey: lobsters, crabs, snails and other hard-bodied animals.
- Loggerheads are the most common species on Escambia County beaches, accounting for over 90% of our nests.
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
- Greens are also one of the larger marine turtles: adults can be up to 4 feet long and 350 lbs.
- Greens are the only turtle that are strict vegetarians as adults; their diet is entirely made of seagrasses and algae. All that plant matter turns their fat green, which is where they get their name!
- Greens are the second most common visitor to our beaches, with a few nests each year. Like most turtles, they can be found in tropical and subtropical waters world-wide.
Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
- Leatherbacks are the largest living sea turtle: adults average 6 feet long and up to 1000 lbs!
- Leatherbacks also lack a hard shell. Like their name suggests their “shell” is a flexible, leathery membrane.
- They’re favorite prey is jellyfish and other soft-bodied organisms. Their mouths are lined with backwards-facing spikes to help hold onto soft, slippery prey.