Protecting sea turtles

  • Published
  • By Teri Spencer, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs

Every year between May 1 and Oct. 31, more than 3,000 threatened and endangered loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtle nests are deposited on 45th Space Wing beaches.

“Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station beaches are two of the largest sea turtle nesting habitats on Florida’s Southeast Atlantic Coast,” said Angy Chambers, 45th Civil Engineer Squadron biological scientist.

However, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, sea turtles face an uncertain future as only about 10 percent actually survive to reproductive age due to pollution, illegal harvesting, habitat encroachment, disorientation from artificial lighting and falling prey to other species.  As good stewards of the environment, the 45th Space Wing is doing its part to change that statistic.

In an effort to increase awareness and to educate, the 45th Environmental Conservation Team recently sponsored a turtle walk at Cape Canaveral AFS where observers learned about the species, threats to their survival and how best to help protect them. 

One of the most serious, man-made threats to hatchling sea turtles is exterior, artificial lighting. Hatchlings use moonlight and starlight reflected off of the water and wet sand to find their way to the sea.  They can become disoriented by on-shore lights and ultimately go in the wrong direction.

To tackle this problem, the 45th Space Wing instituted a strict exterior lighting policy, said Chambers. Under this policy, unnecessary lights were removed and mission essential lights were replaced with turtle-friendly lights.  Finally, all remaining, non-essential lights must be turned off during the nesting season. 

“While these protective measures help, human activity on the beach can have negative impacts on turtles,” said Chambers.  “Beachgoers should stay away from nesting turtles and hatchlings, and should not shine lights on them.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, it is illegal for individuals to touch, harass or shine lights on either the nesting mothers or the emerging hatchlings unless they hold a special permit.  Disturbing sea turtles is a violation of state and federal laws under the Endangered Species Act and fines range from $25,000 to $50,000 and up to one year imprisonment.

To find out more, visit the 45th Space Wing Environmental website at or the Florida Fish and Wildlife website.

How you can help
1. Refrain from walking on the beach at night during the summer months (March through September.)  No matter how quiet, humans will often unknowingly frighten nesting sea turtles back into the sea.
2. Stay off the dunes!
3. Stay away from crawling or nesting sea turtles. Although the urge to observe closely will be great, please resist. Nesting is a critical stage in the sea turtle’s life cycle. Please leave them undisturbed.
4. Don’t shine bright lights onto the beach. If you have security or safety lights near the beach, shade them so the beach is not directly illuminated. Remember, bright lights disorient hatchlings.
5. Do not dispose of plastic bags or trash in the ocean. Plastic bags closely resemble jelly fish, which is a favorite food of sea turtles. If eaten, plastic bags cause illness or death to turtles and other marine life.
6. Patrick AFB beaches are closed at dusk and pets are not permitted on the beaches at any time.
7. Stay clear of marked sea turtle nests on the beach.
8. If a turtle is in a dangerous situation, has wandered off the beach onto a road, in a parking lot, etc., is stranded or is dead, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission hotline at 888-404-3922.  NEVER handle hatchling sea turtles.
9. DO NOT report normal crawling or nesting turtles (digging or laying eggs).
10. If you see someone harassing a sea turtle or poaching a nest, call the local police or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.