Sea Turtle Watch on Cocoa Beach: The Definitive Guide to Cocoa Beach Sea Turtles

Jul 25, 2018

Sea Turtle Watch on Cocoa Beach: The Definitive Guide to Cocoa Beach Sea Turtles
By Veronica Velazquez

Sea Turtle Watch on Cocoa Beach: The Definitive Guide to Cocoa Beach Sea Turtles

With so many things to do in Cocoa Beach, it's easy to forget about some of the natural wonder and wildlife that can be found right on the beach! Sea turtles on Cocoa Beach (and in the wild) are a rare and beautiful sight, and are often found either cloe to shore or right up on the beach and brush areas that make up part of their natural habitat. There are seven species of sea turtles in the world, and all are listed as endangered. One of the few ways to encounter a sea turtle in Cocoa Beach Florida is during the nesting season, when the female turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand. There are some great opportunities to have a sea turtle encounter in Florida, near Cocoa Beach, and there are also many ways to help these magnificent creatures every day. But before we dive into the details, let’s get some back-story on these friendly, aquatic creatures that frequent the coasts of Florida as their home away from home!

Types of Sea Turtles You Might Find Nesting

The beaches of Florida have the distinction of being the nesting grounds for three of the seven species of sea turtle. Leatherback, green, and loggerhead sea turtles are all known to nest on or near Cocoa Beach. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest of all the sea turtles, and the largest of all living turtles in the world. It is the only sea turtle that does not have a bony shell; instead its back is covered in leathery, oily skin. Leatherbacks are carnivorous, eating almost exclusively jellyfish. Several hundred female leatherbacks make their nests on the Atlantic beaches of Florida every year, mostly in Palm Beach County.

The green sea turtle is not actually green, as the name suggests. These turtles typically have brown shells with yellow markings on the flippers and undersides. They get their name from the color of the fat found under their shell. The fat is green because the adults eat so much sea grass and algae, though young turtles eat a more varied diet including fish eggs, crustaceans, sponges, and worms. Hutchinson Island, off the east coast of Florida, and also quite near to Cocoa Beach Florida, is an important nesting ground for green sea turtles.

Loggerhead sea turtles are the most common sea turtles found in Florida. In 2017, there were nearly 100,000 reported loggerhead nesting sites. The green and leatherback sea turtles are much rarer, so regulations protecting these nesting turtles are very strict. Loggerheads are the only sea turtles which are permitted to be viewed during turtle walks. Loggerhead sea turtles are the second-largest turtles, after the leatherbacks, and are quite a sight to be seen on a beach at night.

When Do Sea Turtles Nest in Cocoa Beach?

Florida is the number one place for sea turtle nests in North America from March through September. In fact, March 1st is the official start of the sea turtle nesting season, but precisely when sea turtle nesting season starts depends on where you are in the Sunshine State. For those on the Atlantic side, March marks the beginning of nesting season, while April or even May tend to be the prime nesting times along Florida's Gulf Coast. Bottom line, from March all the way through the end of October, severals species of sea turtle on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches will begin to make nests and lay eggs. Here's a breakdown:

  • MARCH – JULY: Leatherback sea turtles come ashore from March - July to lay eggs. Florida is the only state where leatherback sea turtles nest on a regular basis. With the exception of a few nests on the west coast, leatherbacks nest almost exclusively on the East Coast of Florida, with 50% of leatherback nesting occurring in Palm Beach County.

  • APRIL – SEPTEMBER: Loggerhead sea turtles nest in Florida from April through September. In the United States, 90% of all loggerhead nesting happens in Florida, mostly on the east coast of Florida. In fact, (though there is a slight lag in data) in Brevard County alone there were 23,457 loggerhead nests in 2014.

  • JUNE – SEPTEMBER: Green sea turtle nesting happens from June through late September in the Sunshine State, with the highest level of nesting on Florida’s east coast – but green turtle nests have also been found in every coastal county of Florida at one point or another.

Leatherbacks nest earliest, from March through July, while greens and loggerheads nest from April through September. A nighttime turtle walk in Cocoa Beach is one of the best ways to see a sea turtle during the nesting season. For those who are new to this, a turtle walk is a guided hike along the beach at night, in an area where turtles are expected to be found digging a nest and laying eggs. This is a sensitive activity for the turtle, so there are many rules in place to protect her while she lays her eggs. The guide will know all these rules and will have the required state permit for viewing a nesting sea turtle. Most turtle walks are organized by state parks and environmental organizations to raise awareness and funds for conservation efforts.

Going on a Cocoa Beach Turtle Walk? Some Sea Turtle Do’s and Dont’s!

Those interested in going on a turtle walk can expect walking at least a mile or two on the beach at night, so very young children and individuals with limited mobility are generally discouraged from attempting the hike. Flashlights are not allowed except for use by the guide, and no flash photography is allowed. There is no guarantee that a nesting sea turtle will actually be found during the walk, and if one is found there is a minimum observation distance to maintain. It is a challenge to find and see a sea turtle, but seeing one of these amazing animals up close in the wild is well worth it. The experience will be a treasured memory.

Reservations for turtle walks on Cocoa Beach fill up very quickly! A few organizations that offer guided turtle walks on Florida’s east coast (in general) are:

  • The Sea Turtle Conservancy (https://conserveturtles.org/barrier-island-center-educational-programs/),

  • Friends of the Carr Refuge (https://www.carrrefuge.org/nighttime-turtle-walks)

  • Friends of Sebastian Inlet State Park (http://www.fsispturtlewalk.org/)


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When Do Sea Turtle Eggs Hatch (When Can I See the Cute Babies!)

Sea turtle eggs generally hatch from August through September. The eggs are laid in a nest high enough on the beach to be above the high tide mark, and are kept warm in the sand until they hatch. Sea turtle mothers do not tend to their nests once the eggs are laid and covered up with sand, and do not raise their babies once they are hatched. The newly hatched sea turtles must make it to the ocean unassisted. They must evade predators and navigate the sand successfully without falling into a hole or going in the wrong direction away from the water. This period directly after hatching and emerging from the nest and before making it to the water is one of the most dangerous times in the life of a sea turtle.

This is also another time during which sea turtles can be observed up close in the wild, though the opportunity to see hatchling sea turtles is less well known due to the much smaller likelihood of witnessing the actual hatching. However, there are guided hikes for this as well, known as turtle digs. The sea turtle conservation societies keep track of the nests and when they hatch. Once a known sea turtle nest has hatched, it may become a candidate for what is called a dig, where hikers are led to the hatched nest and the nest is observed. If there are any hatchlings left in the nest, they can be seen at this time. Friends of the Carr Refuge also offer daytime turtle dig walks (https://www.carrrefuge.org/turtle-walks) to visit hatched nests.


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What Can I Do to Help Sea Turtles in Cocoa Beach?

There are many things visitors to the beaches can do to help sea turtles in Cocoa Beach. During the nesting season, visitors should remove all beach chairs, umbrellas, towels, and trash and fill in any holes dug during their visit so that at night the mother sea turtles are unhindered as they climb up onto the beach to dig their nests. It is an often unreported fact that there are more non-nesting emergences than nesting emergences by female sea turtles. This means that female sea turtles turn around and leave more than half of the times that they come out of the sea to make a nest. This is probably because she finds the site unsuitable for some reason. Visitors can help her find a good spot to lay her eggs by taking away everything they bring to the beach when they leave. Holes dug by beach goers can be a major problem for tiny sea turtle hatchlings, so it imperative to fill in any holes or trenches, and level any sand structures, even if they are part of a sand art exhibit . Local residents, visitors, and businesses who have accommodations and buildings on the beach can also help by turning off all exterior lights at night during the summer nesting season. Another way to help sea turtles is to report sick, injured, or dead turtles to the proper authorities. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a 24-hour Wildlife Alert Number at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922) where you can report the location and condition of the turtle.

Sea turtles are amazing and awe-inspiring primordial creatures that most people don’t get to see every day. They deserve the attention and protection they receive as endangered animals. Staying at one of the nearby Cocoa Beach resorts or hotels? Taking the opportunity to go on a Cocoa Beach sea turtle walk can prove to be an exciting and memorable experience! Discover Cocoa Beach sea turtles today and help our marine reptile friends by learning all you can about them!