PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - The first sea turtle nest of the year was found Thursday on the beach in Pass Christian. A beach-goer saw the loggerhead turtle tracks in the sand early Thursday morning and called officials.
"Even though the main nesting area for loggerheads is in Florida, Mississippi does get a handful of nests each year," said research scientist Dr. Andy Coleman. "It's a special event when turtles nest on the mainland because it's much more common for them to lay their eggs on the barrier islands."
The nest is now secured and signs are up warning people to keep their distance. Sea turtles are a federally protected species and hampering with a nest could result in fines or jail time.
Mature females often return to same area where they hatched to lay their eggs, but the presence of artificial lighting could deter a turtle from nesting.
"Sea turtle nesting on Mississippi beaches had been adversely affected by development of the area," said Dr. Moby Solangi, Executive Director of the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies. "The reemergence of nesting on Mississippi beaches is a recent and encouraging phenomenon."
A typical loggerhead nest will hold 80-120 eggs and the temperature of the nest will determine the sex of the hatchlings. The average incubation period for a loggerhead nest is about 60 days.
IMMS staff will continue to monitor the nest for signs of successful hatchings.
"We're going to work to protect this nest, while also learning as much as we can about the nesting biology of sea turtles," Coleman said. "Sea turtles are one of the great wildlife resources of our state and the more we know about them, the more we'll be able to help them."
Sea turtle nesting season in Mississippi runs from May 1 through October 31. Nests are identifiable by a set of parallel tracks left by the female turtle.
If you spot a sea turtle nest, you are urged to call the IMMS stranding hotline at 1-888-SOS-DOLPHIN. And if you encounter a sea turtle while she is laying her eggs, please keep your distance. The scientists said any disturbance could interrupt the nesting process.