Ghost crab hunting no fun for sea turtles

On evenings this summer, Navarre Beach has looked something like Christmas Eve, all twinkling lights as people were out with bright flashlights looking for ghost crabs.

The crabs respond to the beam of light aimed at them, they pop out of their hole and the chase is on. Little ones and their parents are running and shrieking trying to catch a ghost crab. They scoop the tiny white crustacean up in their net, toss it into a bucket…only to let the poor thing go at the end of the night. On to the next hole to do it all over again.

This may sound like a fun time for all at the beach, but there is peril in this practice. This fun game with bright flashlights deters our sea turtles from nesting on Navarre Beach.

These endangered species have been struggling to find safe nesting habitats. Our nesting numbers are certainly not where they should be and have been declining, and this is one of the reasons why.

Visitors who don’t know any better are putting these endangered species in jeopardy with their bright flashlights. When I walk the beach some evenings, I will stop a few visitors to chat about the risks. Nine times out of ten they had no idea.

Sea turtles find their way by light. They navigate by the light of the moon, therefore when other lights are present, they become directionally confused. This season, we have had more than a few false crawls by sea turtles looking for a place to nest. There were three in one night. They crawl up on the beach and make a U-turn back to the water. The lights on the shore tell them it is not the right place to nest. They go look for another place.

As a visitor to our beach, you can do your part to protect sea turtles. Strolling the beach at night can be relaxing, and the views are breathtaking. Try not to use a flashlight or headlamp. Instead depend on the moon. It provides ample light to trace our beaches, and moonlights much more soothing.

If you need a light, use a red filter. The shorter wavelength of red light has minimal impacts on turtles’ sense of direction. There are phone apps that will make your light red, or you can purchase amber bulbs from our local Ace Hardware store for other lights. Ask the sales associate about turtle friendly bulbs.

And maybe if you are lucky you will get the treat of seeing one of our nesting sea turtles in action. If you do, keep your distance and stay quiet to let her do her thing. It is a rare but very, very cool experience.

Come be a part of our nesting season this year on beautiful Navarre Beach, just leave the flashlights at home,

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