As people make plans to go to the beach for the Independence Day holiday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding the public to help protect beach-nesting shorebirds and sea turtles by giving them space and keeping personal fireworks off the beach. Please respect shorebird and sea turtle areas that are posted to protect these vulnerable species, but remember not all nests are posted.
Shorebirds on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts are nesting now, with many of them watching over flightless chicks. Threatened species, such as the snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer and American oystercatcher, are among the shorebirds facing conservation challenges and needing help from people to survive. Loud noises can cause adults to flush off their nests and tiny chicks to become separated from parents, leaving them vulnerable to predators, the elements and getting stepped on by beachgoers.
July is also a busy time for sea turtle nesting on Florida beaches, and female sea turtles can become disoriented and fail to lay their eggs if disturbed by bright lights, loud noises and people getting too close to them. Sea turtle hatchlings, also vulnerable to disturbance, are beginning to emerge this month.
“It’s great to celebrate the Fourth of July, but please help our nesting shorebirds and sea turtles by giving them space and keeping personal fireworks off Florida beaches,” said Brad Gruver, who leads the FWC’s Species Conservation Planning Section. “Attending an official fireworks display is a better choice when it comes to helping Florida’s wildlife.”
During the July Fourth holiday, boaters also can help protect nesting birds by not getting close to or making loud noises near Critical Wildlife Areas, expanded by the FWC in 2016 to protect birds and other species during nesting and other critical life stages. The FWC wants boaters and beachgoers to be aware of the 13 newly designated CWAs, most of them small islands, and not all of them have yet been posted.
Boaters also can help conserve wildlife by looking out for and avoiding manatees and sea turtles in coastal waters.
How to be a Fourth of July beach hero:
Leave personal fireworks at home and attend an official display instead. The loud sounds and bright lights of impromptu fireworks on Florida’s beaches and waterways can have catastrophic effects on nesting birds and their chicks, as well as nesting sea turtles.
Stay out of posted areas, including Critical Wildlife Areas, and keep your distance from nesting sea turtles.
If you walk your dog on the beach, keep it on a leash and at a distance from birds, sea turtles and their nests.
Do not feed birds or leave trash, picnic leftovers or fish scraps on the beach. These scraps attract predators that will eat the eggs and hatchlings of birds and sea turtles.
Wear polarized sunglasses when boating to make it easier to spot manatees and sea turtles. With manatees, look for the circles on the water’s surface indicating their underwater movement or a nose sticking out of the water. Also, listen for huffing noises that manatees make when coming up for air. Most of all, slow down and comply with the posted manatee zones.
Report people disturbing nesting birds and sea turtles and their young by calling the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone, or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com.
Additional information on Critical Wildlife Areas is at MyFWC.com/CWA.