Children pointing at sea turtle exhibit

Photo courtesy of Jeykll Island

The Magic of Sea Turtle Season on Jekyll Island

With its unspoiled beaches, lush maritime forests and peaceful marshes, Jekyll Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, is a dream getaway for nature lovers and wildlife watchers—especially during sea turtle season.

The best time to see adult sea turtles is during nesting season, which begins in May and can last until August. Jekyll Island is one of the few places where you can experience up-close encounters with sea turtles, and the most commonly found species here is the loggerhead sea turtle, which accounts for 95% of nests on the island.

Turtle wading out to sea

Loggerhead sea turtles play an important role in maintaining the delicate ecosystem of Jekyll Island. They eat a variety of marine animals, helping to regulate the food chain, as well as graze on seagrass beds, which keeps the grass short and healthy. These gentle giants can weigh hundreds of pounds, and adult females leave their saltwater and estuarine habitats to hoist themselves onto the sandy beaches to lay eggs. Every two weeks during nesting season, female turtles lay groups of eggs called “clutches,” which typically contain between 60–180 eggs.

Meanwhile, sea turtle hatching season typically happens in August and September and is the best time to see baby sea turtles. Once hatched, the baby turtles must scamper their way across the beach and into the ocean—without being eaten by natural predators on their journey. A perilous game of odds, indeed.

Family viewing a sea turtle behind paned glass

Learn more about the fascinating lives of sea turtles at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, an education and rehabilitation center for these majestic creatures. Take a guided behind-the-scenes tour into the turtle hospital to learn about the care and treatment of sea turtles, as well as the latest details in research and conservation efforts.

Want to spot some sea turtle nests for yourself? Get out on the beach with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center’s Night and Dawn Patrol programs. You’ll join a sea turtle field biologist to patrol Jekyll Island’s beaches in an all-terrain vehicle to find sea turtle nests, observe inventories and check for signs of predators. You also can take a 2-hour guided Turtle Walk to learn more about these creatures, the current threats to their habitats and ways you can help. During June and July, kids can sign up for week-long day camps to nurture their curiosity and learn more about science, animals and conservation.

Young girls and boys explore outside on a sandy path

For some outdoor adventure, see if you can spot sea turtles in their natural habitat on a guided kayak tour through the serene tidal creeks of Jekyll Island. Book a trip with 4-H Tidelands Nature Center and paddle your way through the marshes. Along the way, keep an eye out for loggerhead turtles—as well as herons, pelicans, dolphins and manatees. The kayak guides are also experienced naturalists, and they can share all the fascinating details about the ecology of this beautiful environment as you experience it for yourself. You also can rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from a number of other outfitters in Jekyll Island to explore the waters on your time.

Or help raise money for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center by running in the annual Turtle Crawl, a fundraising event that supports the lifesaving work and conservation efforts of the Center, through the Jekyll Island Foundation. Lace up your running shoes and take your pick from a 10K and 5K race, or just join in the action on the 1K fun run. Want to help from home? Choose the Ghost Crawler option to become a virtual participant and still raise money to help save sea turtles while getting some cool swag.

A young woman and a small boy look at a turtle shell

Know Before You Go

Be sure to protect sea turtles by following some basic conservation rules:

  • Never touch a sea turtle or disturb its nest.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings as to not interrupt the nesting of sea turtles.
  • If exploring the beach at night, do not use pets, flashlights, light-up shoes or flash photography, as these can disturb and disorient the sea turtles.
  • Use special “turtle safe lighting.” These red lights emit a narrow portion of the visible light spectrum, causing less disruption to sea turtles and their hatchlings.

Learn more about where to see sea turtles on Jekyll Island during your next visit.

Published: April 2023

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