Sea turtles might be adorable, but they’re not fans of the spotlight — especially when it’s beaming out from your cellphone. In yet another consequence of the ubiquity of mobile technology for today’s works, Florida officials have warned beach-goers to leave turtles alone — and to specifically avoid scaring turtles with camera flashes or other lights, which can send pregnant moms back into the ocean.
It’s hard to argue that harassing a turtle on her way to make a nest and lay eggs is the worst. OK, fine — passing around a dying (or perhaps already dead) baby dolphin for pictures is the absolute worst, but this is a close second.
All of Florida’s sea turtle species are endangered, and they are very sensitive to artificial light. “It’s a problem not only when they take flash photos, which scares the turtles back into the water, but the phones also have flashlights that people use when they walk on the beach at night,” Joe Widlansky, a sea turtle biologist, told the Tampa Tribune.
Sea turtles have enough to worry about without beach bums getting all up in their business. Climate change has warmed the beach environments where their eggs incubate, and because the sex of juveniles is determined by temperature, there are now more lady-turtles being born than dudes. On top of that, more frequent and more severe storms are washing out the beaches that hold the eggs. And in the ocean, the acidification of seawater threatens the coral reefs that turtles depend on for food and shelter.
People like hanging out on beaches. Sea turtles need access to human-free beaches in order to reproduce. You wouldn’t ask a pregnant woman whose water just broke on the subway for a selfie, so if you see a sea turtle on a beach, don’t become an amateur paparazzo and start snapping photos for Instagram — give her some space and let her do her thing.