In Dade, ‘turtle rangers’ to the rescue

“Turtle Rangers” from Miami-Dade County’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program will patrol South Florida beaches this summer to help stranded baby turtles, and they’ve invited the public to watch them be released.

During the nesting season, which runs from May through the end of October, sea turtle hatchlings break through their shells in nests hidden under the sand, scrape their way to the surface and stream toward the ocean, guided by the moonlight reflecting off the water.

Because the sea turtles that nest in Florida — Loggerheads, Green Turtles, Kemp’s Ridleys, hawksbills and the massive Leatherbacks, which weigh up to 2,000 pounds and are the largest turtles in the world — are listed as endangered or threatened species, the Sea Turtle Conservation Program sends out rangers in pickup trucks to mark the nests and help the turtles.

The hatchlings face a lot of trouble. Mother turtles lay two to eight nests each season bearing about 110 eggs each, according to a Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces news release, but many hatchlings don’t make it to adulthood.

Before they have a chance to break the shell, they’re picked off by raccoons raiding the nests for eggs.

Then seabirds swoop down on them as they emerge from the sand for their trek to the water, and fish gulp them down once they hit the breakers.

And because hatchlings emerging from a nest are drawn to light, artificial lights shining on the beach from homes, businesses or flashlights can lead them in the wrong direction, away from the water.

Miami-Dade County Sea Turtle Conservation Program rangers will release hatchlings at the Crandon Park Visitor and Nature Center, 6767 Crandon Park Blvd. in Key Biscayne, and at Haulover Park, 10800 Collins Ave. near Bal Harbour, from 8:30 to 10 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday until nesting season ends on October 31. Tickets for the program are $10 each, and the money goes into the county’s Sea Turtle Fund.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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