Returning for the 12th year, the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is ushering in sea turtle season with its biggest event of the year, Sea Turtle Day.
On Feb. 24 from 9 a.m.to 4 p.m., the parking lot is transformed into a festival with face painting, arts and crafts, sea turtle monitoring groups, ecologically minded vendors, and government agencies like the Florida Wildlife Commission. Plus, tours of the Intracoastal will be given from kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.
Sea turtle season begins March 1—more than a month earlier than the rest of the state because of our region’s Leatherback turtles, which can nest as early as February.
“It’s just a reminder of how important sea turtles are to us here at Gumbo Limbo. It’s an educational festival but we also put in a lot of fun,” said Leanne Welch, the manager of the nature center.
This year’s theme is Sea Turtles Dig the Dunes, putting a focus on the swath of sand most see as the area between the parking lot and the beach. But, these dunes are important to both people and sea turtles—dunes protect the upland buildings from bad weather and sand, keeping it on the beach. For sea turtles, they like to lay their eggs in the dunes. Also, being higher up, dunes block light. When hatchlings emerge from their shells, they are conditioned to run towards the light, which is usually the moon and the stars over the ocean.
“Our overall message is the important of the dune eco system on the beach,” Welch said. “It’s one of those things where people have a tendency of overlooking.”
Unfortunately, with artificial light, many times hatchlings will run way from the ocean and into roads. A solution is for beachfront properties to block streetlights facing the ocean and other lights to be replaced with low-light, warm-colored bulbs that they can’t see.
“We’ll go out in the morning and nests that hatch—we’ll know it hatches because we’ll see all their little tiny flipper prints—and we want them to go straight for the ocean,” Welch said. “But unfortunately almost half the time they do not go straight to the beach. They may take a longer route, and then some of them may not be able to find the water at all.”
All of this information and more the public can learn from the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, and not just on Sea Turtle Day.
Sea Turtle Day is Feb. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Gumbo Limb Nature Center, 1801 N. Ocean Blvd. in Boca Raton. The event is free to enter, but a $5 donation to Friends of Gumbo Limbo is appreciated. Certain activities have a nominal cost to participate.