FWC: Watch out for sea turtle and shorebird hatchlings this Labor Day weekend

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is reminding beachgoers this Labor Day weekend to watch out for sea turtles and shorebirds as you visit Florida’s shores.

Several species of sea turtles and shorebirds are reliant on Florida’s sandy beaches for nesting, and you can help them and their fragile hatchlings by giving them space, removing beach gear at night, keeping beaches clean and dark, and filling in holes dug in the sand before you leave, the FWC advises.

This time of year, sea turtle hatchlings are still emerging from nests on many beaches around the state, trying to make their way to the ocean. Any interference, including artificial lights and getting too close, can cause hatchlings to be confused and lose their way, endangering their chances at survival, the FWC says.

Shorebirds and seabirds are also dependent on beaches for successful nesting, resting and migrating. While shorebird nesting is ending for the season, flightless chicks and juveniles are still present with their parents on many beaches.

Florida beaches also host vulnerable shorebirds and seabirds year-round. Birds, such as the piping plover and red knot, are returning to Florida’s beaches to refuel during migration and stay for the winter. Giving shorebirds and seabirds space to rest and forage benefits them all year.

The FWC provided the following tips to keep Florida’s beach critters safe:

— Close curtains after dark to help ensure nesting turtles are not disturbed by interior lights as they come ashore and hatchlings are not disoriented as they emerge from their nests.

— Make sure any required exterior lighting adjacent to nesting beaches is long, low and shielded. Avoid using any color flashlight, cell phone lights and taking flash photos after dark on the beach.

— Clear the way at the end of the day to help nesting sea turtles, emerging hatchlings and shorebirds.Obstacles on the beach and holes in the sand can trap or prevent sea turtle hatchlings from reaching the water and adult sea turtles from being able to nest, so it is important to remove all beach toys and furniture before leaving.

— If you or your family dig a hole on the beach, keep it closer to the water line to avoid active sea turtle nests and make sure you fill it back in before leaving to avoid trapping sea turtles and hatchlings as well as flightless shorebird chicks.

— Trash and food scraps attract predators that can prey on sea turtle hatchlings and flightless shorebirds, so it is important to properly dispose of these items after a day at the beach.

— Give sea turtles, emerging hatchlings and shorebirds space. Getting too close to sea turtle hatchlings or nesting sea turtles can prevent them from getting to where they need to go. If an animal changes its behavior when you approach, that is a sign that you might be too close.

— If you find a sea turtle hatchling or adult sea turtle in distress, immediately call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

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