If you have any interest at all in marine life, this list of the best places to see sea turtles in Florida is for you! Think of it as your comprehensive Florida sea turtles guide.
We will go over the different types of Florida sea turtles, as well as when and where they can be found in the wild! Some of these spots may surprise you.
If you really want to see the Florida turtles, plan a trip to Florida during sea turtle nesting season. More sea turtles nest in Florida than anywhere else in the country!
Speaking of sea turtle nesting season, Sea turtles are creatures of habit so Florida turtles will stay Florida turtles. They often return to nest just feet away from where they were the previous year, meaning you can see these cute guys hanging out in Florida year after year!
Florida sea turtles can be big or small, brown or green, but they are all absolutely adorable. Sea turtles in Florida are beautiful creatures that you should not forget when planning your next Florida vacation.
Sea turtles in Florida come in many different varieties. Keep reading to find out what they are, and how you can spot each of these Florida turtles!
What Kind Of Sea Turtles Live In Florida
Florida sea turtles are not just one species. There are a total of seven different types of sea turtle in the world, or six depending on who you ask.
There is actually a scientific debate about whether to include the seventh species in the sea turtle classification. Who knew sea turtles could cause such controversy?!
The reason for this disagreement is that six of the seven species of sea turtle all fall into the family Cheloniidae. They have plated shells that all look relatively similar.
The seventh species of sea turtle belongs to the Dermochelyidae family, and has a shell that is one single piece. These sea turtles are the easiest to identify because they just look so different from the others.
The highly debated seventh turtle species is known as the leatherback, and is actually one of our Florida sea turtles. For that reason we will be including the leatherback on this list, no matter what the scientists say!
Five of the seven total species of sea turtles can be found in Florida. These Florida sea turtles include the loggerhead, green turtle, kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, and the aforementioned leatherback.
Although the leatherback is the most distinctive of these Florida turtles, each species has unique characteristics.
You can spot a loggerhead by its large, square head and medium size (for a turtle), up to 275 pounds. These Florida turtles have a brown shell and yellow belly, and are the most common sea turtles in Florida.
The green turtle is larger than the loggerhead (up to 350 pounds), and has a small head for its body. These Florida turtles are known for being, you guessed it, green!
Florida is extremely lucky that the kemp’s ridley sea turtle calls it home, as this is the rarest and most endangered sea turtle in the world. These turtles are quite small, an adult turtle only weighing 85-100 pounds.
Hawksbill turtles have an amber colored shell with darker markings, and are also quite small (100-200 pounds). If it has a skinny head and raptor-like jaw, that’s how you know it’s a hawksbill.
Leatherbacks are by far the largest Florida sea turtles, weighing up to 2,000 pounds! You can spot them by the seven vertical ridges they have on their backs and obviosly, their one-piece shell.
Now that you know how to spot the differences between species of Florida sea turtles, read on to find out when and where you can see each of them in action!
Best Time Of Year To See Sea Turtles In Florida
Sea turtles are a transient animal, meaning they migrate to different waters depending on the season. Florida turtles are no exception.
The best time of year to see wild sea turtles in Florida is during the summer, during sea turtle nesting season. Sea turtle nesting season lasts from roughly May to September.
The turtles generally nest at night, so be prepared for a late night walk on the beach!
Almost 90 percent of all sea turtle nesting in the United States occurs in Florida between the months of May and October. Watching sea turtles nest in such great numbers is really an unforgettable experience.
If you think about it, Florida is the only place in the country where you can see that many sea turtles at once. And all in the wild!
What Month Do Sea Turtles Hatch In Florida
Sea turtle eggs hatch about 50-60 days after they are laid so in theory they will begin to hatch around the 19th of June, with the last eggs of the season hatching around mid December. Colder temperatures will lengthen the incubation period, while warmer ones will shorten it.
It’s also interesting to note that colder temperatures produce more male sea turtles and warmer temperatures produce more females, so the sea turtles in Florida tend to be largely female!
Sea turtles tend to hatch at night between 9 pm and 5 am (pretty much the same time of day the eggs are laid), so you have yet another reason for that late night beach stroll!
Can You Touch Sea Turtles In Florida
You absolutely should NOT touch a sea turtle, especially a baby one. There can be legal repercussions, but it is also extremely harmful to the turtle itself (hence the legal repercussions).
Sea turtles are protected under both Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act and under the US Endangered Species Act of 1973. It is illegal to touch sea turtles as well as their nests and eggs.
Six out of seven species of sea turtle are on the endangered species list, including all of the sea turtles in Florida. Humans pose the largest threat to their population, so it is important to follow a few rules when observing sea turtles.
Endangered species laws don’t just prevent touching the turtles. They also prohibit the trade, selling, and ownership of sea turtles.
The most important thing prohibited by these laws however is light.
Sea turtles hatching in Florida use the light of the moon to find their way to the ocean. Any artificial light will lead them in the wrong direction, leaving them vulnerable to predators, as well as to dying of hunger or dehydration.
This means no flash photography, no bright cellphones, and no flashlights.
If you’re worried about being able to see the turtles in the dark without any light, turtle-safe flashlights are a thing! This way you can still get a good view of the sea turtles without putting them in danger.
This information is not to dissuade you, but rather to make sure your visit with the sea turtles hatching in Florida is safe for you and for them. Keep your hands to yourself and your flash off, and go enjoy the turtles!
7 Best Places To See Sea Turtles In Florida
Melbourne Beach is one of the most important places for sea turtles hatching in Florida. Many of the following locations offer educational tours so that everyone knows how to observe the sea turtles without disturbing their nests.
Having an educated guide also means you are sure to see turtles and nests on your adventure. It’s a much more reliable way to find them than going alone!
If any of the following Melbourne beach locations pique your interest, you can find more information about their tours and services at the links provided!
Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge
The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is a 20.5 mile stretch of Florida’s coastline spanning from Melbourne beach to Wabasso. More loggerhead sea turtles come here for sea turtle nesting season than any other place in the Western Hemisphere.
You can also see leatherback and green turtles nesting here. Due to the protections the Wildlife Refuge has put in place, these two species of sea turtle have been nesting there in increasing numbers the past few years!
Sea Turtle Preservation Society
The Sea Turtle Preservation Society is located just north of Melbourne Beach in Indialantic, Florida. Conveniently, it is also just north of the aforementioned Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge.
The Sea Turtle Preservation Society actually offers sea turtle walks to the Wildlife Refuge. Although there is no absolute guarantee that you will see the turtles on these walks, they have a very high success rate.
This success rate is largely due to the efforts of both The Archie Carr Wildlife Rescue and the Sea Turtle Preservation Society. Because of their work to preserve the sea turtles’ habitats, there are now a lot more turtles to see than there were a few years ago.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
Sebastian Inlet State Park is another great Melbourne Beach location to spot sea turtles. The most abundant species here is the loggerhead, with green turtles a close second, as well as the occasional leatherback nest.
There is also the rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nest. The last reported sighting was in 2018, but you might just be the lucky traveler who spots the unlikely Kemp’s ridley nest!
Just like Melbourne Beach, Vero Beach is located on Florida’s east coast. Vero Beach is less than an hour south of Melbourne, so you can easily visit both if you take a Florida road trip.
This stretch of Florida’s coastline is commonly referred to as the “treasure coast”. And although you may not find any buried treasure, this guide will definitely help you to find some sea turtles!
Coastal Connections offers a plethora of ways you can encounter wild sea turtles in Vero Beach. They also have an “adopt-a-nest” option.
Adopting a sea turtle may not be the best way to view their nests in real time, but it comes with a whole bunch of cool perks. You will get an official adoption certificate, as well as information about your nest once it hatches.
This information includes how many turtles were hatched from the nest, how many made it safely to the water, as well as whether they were male or female. You may also receive some special gifts from Coastal Connections, and your nest will have the opportunity to be featured on a Turtle Dig!
Turtle Digs are probably the most foolproof way to view wild sea turtle nests in Vero Beach. You will have the opportunity to learn a little bit about sea turtle biology and conservation efforts just steps away from where the nests are hatching!
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort offers a Sea Turtle Night Walk! This experience is probably your best option when it comes to being certain you will see the turtles.
This is because while you listen to a presentation on sea turtles, official monitoring scouts will go out and look for nests. The scouts then return and take you directly to the nests they have spotted just minutes earlier!
You will also be given night vision goggles to better observe the turtles, and an earpiece to listen to an expert narrate the tour as you look at the nests. You do not have to stay at the resort to enjoy this turtle walk, and anyone over the age of 8 is welcome!
As you might have guessed, the Florida Keys are prime real-estate when it comes to sea turtles. You can find five out of seven species of sea turtles in the Florida Keys.
The Florida Keys are gorgeous any time of year, but if you plan your visit during nesting season it’s sure to be a particularly unforgettable stay. Check out the following locations to find the best places to spot sea turtles in the Florida Keys.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is located about 70 miles west of Key West, and is only accessible by boat or plane. This may sound like a hassle, but it is one of the best places to see sea turtles in the Florida Keys and totally worth it!
The Dry Tortugas are also some of the most beautiful islands in Florida, and your boat or plane ride will really give you the chance to see that.
As the name suggests, Dry Tortugas was named for its large turtle population! In 1513, Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon saw so many sea turtles nesting on these islands that he called them “Las Tortugas”.
Loggerhead, Hawksbill, and Green sea turtles all nest here. And even when it’s not nesting season for the sea turtles in the Florida Keys, you might spot some swimming in the surrounding waters!
Key West Reef
Another great way to find sea turtles in Key West is to go snorkeling! And at Key West Reef, otherwise known as “The Great Florida Reef“, you can do just that.
This coral reef is actually the only living coral barrier reef in the United States. It is also the third largest reef in the world!
Adult sea turtles migrate to and from this reef year round, so no need to wait for nesting season here. That is, unless you really want to see the baby turtles hatch (they’re so dang cute who could blame you?!).
This will be an unforgettable adventure whether you encounter wild turtles or not. It’s also a great place to use your underwater camera.
Coral reefs are extremely beautiful and colorful. They also accommodate so many different species of marine life that they’re sometimes called “rainforests of the sea”.
There are many snorkeling tours you can choose from, or you can just stay in a nearby Airbnb and go turtle hunting on your own!
Sea turtles in Florida are truly a sight to behold, especially in the wild. This is even more true during their nesting season.
If you’re planning a trip any time between March and October, you do not want to miss the natural wonder that is sea turtle nesting season. And now, you have all the information you need to make the most of your turtle watching.
We’ve gone over the different species of sea turtles, where and when they nest, as well as tips and tricks for spotting them on some of Florida’s prettiest beaches. Now go forth and make some turtle friends!
We sincerely hope you learned something from this article, whether it be how to distinguish each sea turtle species, how to best protect sea turtles in Florida, or most importantly, where you’re going to go on your Florida sea turtles vacation!
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