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Madison DeFrank captured the rare moment of baby sea turtles marching toward the Gulf of Mexico during a sunset walk on Vanderbilt Beach in North Naples on July 18, 2019. Naples

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Sea turtles come from the Gulf of Mexico to nest on Marco Island's beach from May to August. Baby turtles, or hatchlings, then take about two months to hatch from early July through the end of October each year.

As nesting and hatching season begins, the Marco Island Police Department urges residents and visitors to protect sea turtles by following beach lighting laws, keeping the beach free of barriers and reporting injured or dead turtles.

Turtles creat their nests at night and then "instinctively are compelled back to the naturally bright horizon" over the Gulf, according to police. "Artificial lights on the upland and shoreline disorient the sea turtles and deter them from nesting or from returning to the [water]," police wrote in a news release sent May 1.

Likewise, the hatchlings may travel inland guided by brighter artificial lights, using the energy they would have used to swim into the water.  "If they are disoriented, they often die from dehydration and are easily preyed upon by fire ants, ghost crabs and birds."

According to police, one way to know if you have appropriate lightning is by following this simple rule: "If you can see your shadow on the beach at night – the light is too bright!"

More: Sea turtle nesting season starts soon on quieter beaches

To decrease disorientation of sea turtles, police say people in beach properties can turn off all unnecessary lights, close blinds and curtains, shield light sources, apply tint to windows, avoid using decorative landscape lighting on the beach side and plant vegetation buffers between light sources and beach.

Use of cell phone lights, flashlights or flash photography on the beach is also prohibited at night.

Code Enforcement issued 41 notices for violating sea turtle lighting rules during last year's nesting season which ended Oct. 31, according to police.

The figure represents nearly a 37 percent increase from 2018 when 30 notices were issued.

In 2019, notices of violation resulted in $3,300 in fines issued against 10 condominium associations as of early November.

In the event an injured or dead sea turtle is found, police say to immediately notify Collier County Sea Turtle Protection Program at 239-252-2952 or the  commission's law enforcement division at 1-888-404-3922.

To further help sea turtles, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends organizing beach clean ups, avoiding leaving fishing lines behind and feeding wildlife, and reducing the amount of plastic garbage produced as well as the amount of fertilizer used.

All five Florida species are listed as either endangered or threatened, according to the commission's website. The federal Endangered Species Act lists the green, leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp's ridley turtle as endangered and the loggerhead is listed as threatened.

It is illegal to harm, harass, or kill any sea turtles, their eggs, or hatchlings, according to the commission. It is also illegal to import, sell, or transport turtles or their products.

For frequently asked questions, visit FWC's website at https://myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/florida/faq/.

Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.

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