Coastal Development & Sea Turtles

Coastal development is a broad category which includes an array of human activities including beachfront construction of homes, hotels, restaurants, and roads, often for tourism. Also included are things like beach renourishment, seawall construction, and nearshore dredging and oil platform construction.  Half of the world’s population lives on or within 100 miles of a coastline and this number will likely increase dramatically in the next decade.

The human alteration of coastlines forces nesting females to use other beaches, changes the properties of nesting beaches, and contributes to the pollution of sea turtle habitat from runoff and wastewater discharge. Increased coastal populations result in increased recreation and beach going vehicles.

Upon reaching sexual maturity, sea turtles generally return to the same beaches where they were hatched to lay eggs. Objects left on beaches, like beach chairs, create obstacles for nesting females, sometimes resulting in failed nesting attempts. Obstacles on beaches can also be hazards to hatchlings as they get trapped in depressions and are unable to make it to the ocean.

Seawall construction creates impenetrable barriers to nesting females and causes unnatural erosion of beaches.  Boats and personal watercraft are responsible for large numbers of sea turtle injuries and deaths. As coastal populations increase, boating activities increase and collisions with sea turtles that must surface to breathe, are inevitable. In Florida, most sea turtle strandings are the result of collisions with boats.

In many important sea turtle hotspots around the world, such as Cancun, Mexico, tourism development has hurt conservation efforts more than they have helped. SEE Turtles recommends that travelers carefully research coastal hotels to make sure they are not impacting beach habitat and are supporting conservation efforts. We work with locations that do not have high numbers of visitors or large hotels and ensure that the lodgings we use are turtle-friendly.

coastal development & sea turtles

  • Sea turtle hatchlings are guided to the ocean at night by the natural light on the ocean horizon. Beachfront lighting disorients hatchlings when they emerge from the nest, leading them away from the water and towards roads and buildings where they die of exposure, fall victim to predators or vehicles, or become trapped by obstacles. Beachfront lighting also disorients nesting females and may result in failed nesting attempts. Learn about turtle-friendly lighting here.

  • The temperature of a sea turtle nest determines the sex of the hatchlings. Beach renourishment, the pumping of offshore sand onto beaches to replace sand lost to erosion, alters the properties of a beach and can affect incubation temperatures resulting in altered and unnatural sex ratios. Beach renourishment can also affect the ability of a female to successfully dig a nest.

beach development

What is SEE Turtles?

We're a non-profit organization that protects sea turtles through conservation travel and volunteer tourseducational programs, and Billion Baby Turtles. Our award-winning programs help save sea turtle hatchlings on important nesting beaches around the world, work with the tourism industry to end the turtleshell trade, and educate students and travelers about how to help save sea turtles.

Photo credit: Neil Ever Osborne