By Jessica Tuggle
SEBASTIAN INLET -- Human night owls have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of sea turtles nesting on the beach this summer, especially if the weather is less than ideal, said Sebastian Inlet State Park rangers.
On May 15, the state park began accepting reservations for the free guided turtle walks leaving from the McClarty Treasure Museum in June. Reservations for dates in July will open on June 15.
The turtle walk program begins at 9 p.m., Friday through Tuesday, except on July 4, said Sebastian Inlet Park Ranger Terry O'Toole.
"We see turtles on 75 percent of the trips and that's a pretty steady trend, but there's always that 25 percent," he said.
From his 34-year experience as a ranger, the best times to see a mama turtle come up on the shoreline to lay eggs is on "miserable" evenings.
"On nights with bad weather, where it's drizzly, rainy and just miserable, we usually see turtles," Ranger O'Toole said.
The turtle walk program begins at 9 p.m. with an educational presentation by a ranger, which includes hands-on visuals and a slide presentation.
While tour guests are introduced to the types of sea turtles that can be found nesting on Indian River County shores, their sizes and how the human population can help the turtle population, "turtle scouts," state park volunteers are walking the nearby beach in search of a turtle nesting.
If a turtle is found nesting, the group will be escorted directly to the site, but if no turtle is found by 10 p.m., guests could walk up to three miles and stay as late as 1 a.m. waiting and searching for a turtle to come ashore, Ranger O'Toole said.
This turtle nesting season has been an exciting one already, with the first-ever sighting of a Kemp's ridley sea turtle nesting on the shore just two weeks ago, he said.
The Kemp's ridley sea turtle is the rarest sea turtle and is critically endangered.
Loggerhead sea turtles and the large leatherback sea turtles have also been spotted since the nesting season officially began May 1.
Loggerheads are a threatened species, while other two sea turtles that commonly nest on Florida's coast, leatherbacks and green sea turtles, are both considered endangered.
Nesting loggerheads are the only turtles rangers are permitted by the state to show tour groups.
Tour visitors are advised to wear clothing that will cover them from mosquitos and to wear an insect repellant with DEET. Participants should be in moderate physical condition, able to walk up to three miles in the beach sand, Ranger O'Toole said.
For more information about the sea turtle walks at Sebastian Inlet State Park, call (772) 388-2750 or visit www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet/default.cfm.