CLEARWATER — The spring breakers are gone and soon the beaches will be inundated with families and other summer visitors, including hordes of tiny, imperiled loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings.
After breaking out of their ping-pong-size egg shells, they will spend a few days in their sandy nests, then make a run for the foamy surf, most likely at night.
Though each sea turtle averages about 100 eggs per clutch, the odds of long-term survival are against these creatures.
Find out how you can help Saturday, as the Clearwater Marine Aquarium hosts its second annual Sea Turtle Awareness Day at the Pier 60 Pavilion from 9 a.m. until noon.
This year's theme is "Keep the Beach Dark."
Lisa Oliver, the aquarium's director of education, said the purpose is to teach good beach etiquette and raise awareness of the hazards the hatchlings and nesting females face during the nesting season, which lasts from May to October.
"We're encouraging everyone to turn off artificial lights and keep the beach dark, clear of obstacles and free of debris," Oliver said.
Nature's compass for these hatchlings is moonlight, but artificial lights such as those that come from hotel rooms and restaurants can lure them in the wrong direction, where they may get crushed in traffic or fall into storm drains. Beach debris, sand castles and towels are like mountains to climb. Hollows in the sand from castle-building activities can entrap them. They can become disoriented, dehydrated, exhausted or food for birds and ghost crabs.
Nesting females face similar hazards that may prevent them from depositing eggs, resulting in a "false crawl."
Residents and tourists are encouraged to come on out, help pick up beach trash, then pick up some information from the aquarium's Sea Turtle Nesting Patrol and other local environmental and rescue organizations.
Stay for a beach yoga class, free food, prizes and giveaways.
The youngsters can learn all about sea turtles, too, with games and readings by David Kinne, aquarium staffer and author of the children's book, Captain Tortuga and the Treasure of Sand Key.
And consider becoming a volunteer with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
"We have teams monitoring 26 miles of beaches in Pinellas during the entire nesting season," Oliver said. "They are there in the mornings and evenings making sure the hatchlings can make it safely into the water."
If you happen to run across a turtle nest that is unmarked, contact the Clearwater Marine Aquarium at (727) 441-1790.
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