June 16 is World Sea Turtle Day to highlight the importance of these prehistoric creatures. So join us in celebrating these resilient animals that have been nesting on our beaches for nearly 200 million years!

World Sea Turtle Day is celebrated on the same day as Dr. Archie Carr’s birthday. Known as the “father of sea turtle biology”, Dr. Carr realized the important role these animals play in the well being of sea life. From keeping the population of jellyfish and sponges in check to maintaining the health of sea grass beds, these amazing creatures are crucial in maintaining the delicate balance needed to keep ocean habitats healthy.

Between May 1 and October 31, the loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, and green sea turtles nest along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Female sea turtles return to the beach where they hatched and lay an average of 110 eggs at a time, although only a few hatchlings will reach adulthood. Dangerous predators, pollution, and beach development threaten the species. Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, it’s against the law to disturb nesting sea turtles, their hatchlings, or nests.

Alabama’s Share the Beach program was formed to protect sea turtles along the Gulf Coast. Every year, hundreds of its volunteers find and protect nests from Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. And with their help, nearly 8,000 sea turtles hatched along the Alabama Gulf Coast in 2015. Share the Beach works to raise awareness of the importance of sea turtles through educating the public and school groups. To learn more about Share the Beach, visit www.alabamaseaturtles.com.

So how can you help protect these amazing animals? You can help these determined creatures by doing the following:

  • Turn out the lights! Hatchlings make their way to the Gulf by following moonlight. Artificial lights disorient these young voyagers and distract them from making their way to the water.
  • Level the playing field! When you leave the beach at night, knock down sand castles and fill in holes so there is a flat surface for the hatchlings.
  • Clean it up! Litter on the beach can quickly become marine debris. Nesting turtles can mistake plastic debris for food and get tangled in kite strings, six-pack rings, and fishing lines.
  • Don’t disturb a turtle nest! Nests are protected by federal and state laws.

Most importantly, spread the word! Sea turtles outlived the dinosaurs, but they need our help to thrive for the next 200 million years!