POLICE OFFICER HELPS LOST BABY TURTLES FIND THEIR WAY BACK HOME IN THE FLORIDA KEYS

Sea turtle hatchlings emerged from their nest Monday night at the Pier House Resort’s beach, but were disoriented by lights at the closed restaurant and ended up on the decking instead of in the ocean. CONTRIBUTED

Key West Police Officer Randy Perez responded to a unique call on the night of July 18 — a baby turtle rescue.

The tiny turtles had hatched on the beach at the Pier House Resort, but instead of heading to the water, they began trekking across the wooden decking of the closed restaurant, said Key West city spokeswoman Alyson Crean. 

With the help and direction of Samantha Plencner from the Key West Wildlife Rescue Center, the turtles were safely redirected back to the ocean and a saltwater life ahead.

The city of Key West reminds residents, visitors and businesses to keep the lights out near beaches during turtle nesting season so turtles can lay their eggs in peace and the hatchlings can find their way safely to the water.

Hatchlings naturally head toward light, typically the moonlight that will lead them to the sea. So anyone living near a beach should turn off outdoor lighting and close shades or curtains. If the lights cannot be completely doused, try shielding them so that they don’t shine toward the beach. Baby turtles are drawn to light after they hatch from their sandy nests. Porch lights can be fatal to these hatchlings, Crean said.

“And we have about 20 turtle nests among all Key West beaches this season, compared to about 10 last year, so it’s crucial to keep the hatchlings in the dark so they don’t get disoriented,” she said. “If someone does witness a turtle hatch or sees hatchlings, the experts at the Turtle Hospital implore them not to use camera flashes or flashlights on their cellphones to take photos, as these are extremely disorienting to the hatchlings.”

Key West’s beaches are closed to the public each night at 11 p.m., and this time of year it’s vital that people heed the law. April 15 through Oct. 31 is turtle nesting season – when these magnificent creatures crawl up out of the sea to deposit their eggs in the sand.

The organization Save-A-Turtle has, in past years, seen evidence that females have crawled up on the beach and returned to the water without laying any eggs. Turtle watchers suspect these “false crawls” may be the result of human interference and artificial lights.

Although it’s tempting to try to witness this rare and wonderful aspect of our ocean environment, it’s not worth the consequences. Nesting beaches have diminished as development has increased over the past several decades. It’s crucial that we do all we can to ensure safe nesting beaches in Key West.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.