VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – Volusia County warned beachgoers to watch out for washback turtles — palm-sized sea turtles washing ashore beaches in the county.
According to the county, washback turtles may be hiding in seaweed that washes ashore on beaches in the area.
Officials said the turtles emerged from their nests earlier this summer and swam offshore toward a floating line of Sargassum seaweed, though some turtles have been pushed back to shore due to strong winds and currents.
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“When they first hatch out of the nest for their first 24-48 hours, they have all of this energy and they just go, go go, and it gets them out to that seaweed line. When they’re a washback, they’re really lethargic, they don’t move, they just kind of lay there,” said Alyssa Hancock, assistant manager of turtle rehab at the Marine Science Center.
While county officials said the turtles “tragically” don’t have the energy to swim back to open water — meaning significant risk of death by dehydration for the turtles — they asked that beachgoers not try to put the turtles back in the water.
“If you find a washback or hatchling on the beach that is in imminent danger, do not put it back in the ocean,” protected species manager Jennifer Winters said. “Instead, contact Beach Safety for further instruction. These animals are often exhausted and can barely lift their heads to breathe. Holding them in water or putting them in the ocean can be fatal because they don’t have the energy needed to make it back out on their own.”
Winters encouraged people to follow these tips:
- Make sure the turtle is out of harm’s way, but do not take it home.
- Provide shade over the turtle and determine your exact location; the address, building name, street name or GPS location are most helpful.
- Immediately notify Beach Safety at 386-239-6414. Between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., call the Volusia Sheriff’s Office at (386) 248-1777 ext. 6.
- Keep the turtle in a quiet, dry, shaded area, even if you think it’s dead. Staff from Beach Safety or a partner organization will coordinate with you to collect the turtle.
Washback turtles are brought to the Marine Science Center to be treated, and the turtles will be returned to the ocean by boat when they are strong enough to swim, officials said.
According to the county, the center hasn’t yet received any washback turtles for this season, though staff staff believe it is only a matter of time.
County officials said the turtles can be found near fresh seaweed wash-ins now through November.
For anyone interested in becoming a “Washback Watcher” in 2023, call 386-238-4716 or visit the county’s website here to be placed on a list for next year’s training class.
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