Photo by TarikB on Flickr
Boca Raton may be in the center of a densely developed urban area, but every night in the summer, an ancient natural ritual occurs on its beaches – huge sea turtles lumber onto the sand and lay eggs.
The turtles have returned to these beaches for thousands of years, and witnessing this National Geographic moment is a thrill for anyone, especially kids.
As a result, there is another Boca ritual every spring – reserving your spot on a sea-turtle walk at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Getting a chance to see a sea turtle in action takes some doing, but it’s a memorable experience.
At Gumbo Limbo, a sea turtle walk begins at 9 p.m. in a classroom at the environmental-education center, 1801 N. Ocean Blvd. Spotters scan the beach for a turtle emerging from the water to nest. If one is found – and there are no guarantees - visitors are led to a spot on the beach where a sea turtle is digging a hole a foot or two deep with her hind flippers.
The turtle then starts filling the nest with soft-shelled eggs the size of ping-pong balls. After laying, she re-fills the nest with sand and heads back into the ocean. The whole process takes 30 to 60 minutes. The program ends by 11 p.m. on the beach.
Of course, Gumbo Limbo can’t ensure a turtle will be nesting during your talk – most years, half the walks do not result in witnessing a nesting turtle. So be prepared to learn a lot about turtle nesting and to maybe see it yourself. Because of the late hour and the patience required, this program is limited to children age 8 or older.
If you want a guaranteed turtle experience, then reserve a spot starting July 14 for a sea-turtle hatchling release. This 90-minute program is open to even the youngest kids, who get to cheer on the tiny turtles as they scramble into the surf. It begins in the Gumbo Limbo classroom and ends on the beach.
Ticket information for sea-turtle nesting walks:
- 9 p.m. May 24 and May 31 (Thursdays); every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night in June; and July 3 and 5 (Tuesday and Thursday)
- $15 per person. There is a limit of six tickets per person.
- Tickets, on sale now, must be purchased in person. These walks always sell out, so make reservations as soon as possible.
- Turtle walk information from the Gumbo Limbo website.
- For more information: 561-338-1473
Ticket information for sea-turtle hatchling releases:
- 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday evenings from July 23 to Aug. 16; 7:30 p.m. Monday to Thursdays from Aug. to Sept. 6. (There is no program on Labor Day, Sept. 3).
- General ticket sales begin July 14 and must be purchased in person. There is a limit of six tickets per person.
- Turtle hatchling release information from the Gumbo Limbo website.
There are several other beaches where you can go on turtle walks, and some are located in areas where the odds are better of seeing an actual nesting turtle. Like Gumbo Limbo, these programs fill up fast.
Here’s a guide to other sea turtle walks in Florida from Florida Rambler: Things to do in Florida’s outdoors.
Locations for these turtle walks that are easily accessed from Boca include John U. Lloyd Beach State Park in Dania Beach, the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach and Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.
Further up the coast, the turtle walks might make a good anchor for weekend trip to Melbourne Beach, Jensen Beach, Hobe Sound or Titusville.
- BONNIE GROSS, FloridaRambler.com