LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., July 2, 2009 — With sea turtle nesting season in full swing, Disney’s Animal Program’s experts are keeping busy at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort where hundreds of female sea turtles will come ashore through September to complete a pilgrimage they do every few years – lay eggs. Approximately 50,000 sea turtles come ashore in Florida each year, making it one of the most fertile nesting areas in the United States.
While not easy, the process of establishing a nest starts with the female dragging her heavy body out of the water to the sand dunes. Using her back flippers, she digs a hole to deposit approximately one hundred rubbery eggs, each the size of a golf ball. The turtle hides the nest by covering the hole with sand and heads back to the ocean.
Back at the nest, the hatchlings incubate for approximately two months until they are ready to break out of their shells. They thrash their way out together, causing the walls of the nest to collapse and the bottom of the hole to rise. Once near the surface, the hatchlings wait until dark when the sand temperature cools before they emerge. Clear of the nest, they scramble to the water and swim offshore where they will live for several years.
Disney conservation biologists and animal experts offer several opportunities for resort guests to learn more about this natural migration to the shores of Florida’s east coast. Animal experts lead guided tours along the beach where the turtles are likely to nest and also host informational sessions on select summer nights.
The resort also offers opportunities for guests to get more involved with sea turtle conservation. Through the resort’s Adopt-A-Nest Program, guests may “adopt” a nest and track the hatchlings online at www.disney.com/conservation>>Adopt-A-Turtle. Each adoption package includes a special certificate listing the species and specific location of the nest.
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort also takes great care to minimize the amount of artificial light from the resort. Sea turtles rely on moonlight to find their way to the ocean and may be drawn off-course by artificial light sources.
“Our guests are interested in learning what happens to the nest once they leave the resort. Did they hatch? How many eggs were in the nest? Did they all survive?” according to Disney senior conservation biologist Anne Savage, Ph.D. “By adopting a nest, guests can track what happens to the nest and contribute to protecting sea turtles in Florida.”
Proceeds from the program are directed through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to benefit turtle and beach conservation efforts throughout Florida. Since the program began back in 2007, more than 150 nests have been adopted.
Added: Disney has provided us with this video footage of a rare daytime hatching at beach near its Vero Beach Resort. Usually the sea turtles will hatch only at night to protect themselves from potential preditors, but the cloudy weather conditions provided the perfect opportunity.