May in Panama City Beach means lots of different things to different people. From the end of Spring Break season to the beginning of the most exciting parts of summer, May is a busy time. But for nesting sea turtles, this time of year has a very different meaning.

While sea turtles can begin to nest in southern parts of Florida as early as March, on the Gulf Coast, the season tends to begin in May. Here are five things you may not have known about nesting sea turtles:

  1. All species of sea turtles are currently endangered. Due to natural predators as well as human-caused factors like pollution, construction, and artificial lighting, fewer than one in a thousand sea turtles survives to adulthood.
  2. It can take between 15 and 50 years for a sea turtle to be mature enough to mate and lay eggs.
  3. While sea turtles travels hundreds of thousands of miles, living their lives in the ocean, they almost always return to the same beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs.
  4. Sea turtles are prehistoric reptiles that have existed for about one hundred million years.
  5. The biggest danger to hatchling sea turtles isn’t predators, but artificial lighting. Hatchlings navigate to the sea by orienting towards the brightest light, which should be the moon reflecting on the open ocean. Outdoor lighting that faces the beach can confuse them and cause them to get lost before they can reach the water. Hatchlings that don’t get into the water very quickly are at risk of death.

Florida is where the vast majority of American sea turtles make their nests, so as a visitor or resident of Florida’s coastal areas, what can you do to help protect the local sea turtle population?

  • If you’re renting a condo or property along the beach, turn off your lights at night. This will help keep any hatchlings from getting confused and heading in the wrong directions, and will also allow sea turtles to make their nests in peace.
  • During the months of sea turtle nesting season, May to October, avoid walking on the beach at night if you can. If you need to walk on the beach, do not use a flashlight or light from your smartphone.
  • If you find a turtle building her nest, do not disturb her. Do not take flash photography or go near her at all. If you frighten her, she’ll head back to the water and drop her eggs there, which means that all the eggs will be lost.
  • If you find a turtle nesting, or find a nest that’s already been laid, call the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission at (888)404-3922. This number is toll free and is a 24 hour hotline. Trained volunteers will then be able to come to mark and protect the nest, increasing the chances that the hatchlings will survive.

Want to know more about sea turtle nests and hatchings in Panama City Beach? You can track what’s happening with sea turtles at Panama City Beach’s Turtle Watch. The site hasn’t been updated with 2016 statistics as of this writing, but you can see what the organization has done historically, and see videos of the previous nest hatchings.

If you are a school or teacher in the area, find out about the organization’s Adopt-a-Nest program to have the chance to see the inside of a sea turtle’s nest.