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The Gulf Islands National Seashore’s first sea turtle nest of the season has hatched at the park’s Perdido Key Area, park biologists confirmed Thursday.

Established in 1971, the national seashore stretches across more than 160 miles from Mississippi to Florida and includes pristine beaches, historic Civil War era forts, and nature preserves. Key attractions include Ship Island and Fort Massachusetts in Mississippi as well as Johnson Beach, Forts Barrancas and Pickens, and the Naval Live Oaks Reservation in the Pensacola Bay area.

Each year, beginning in mid-May and ending in late summer, the seashore provides nesting habitat for several species of sea turtle, including the loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, green, and leatherback sea turtles. Evidence of the hatching was first discovered by park staff early Thursday morning, officials said. The nest was laid by a loggerhead sea turtle in late May 2017.

To celebrate the beginning of hatching season, the national seashore is offering free Baby Sea Turtle Magnets. The special edition magnets are available this year only. Beginning on Friday, August 4, visitors may stop by the Fort Pickens and Perdido Key entrance stations, the Fort Pickens Museum, and the Park Headquarters at Naval Live Oaks to pick up the free magnet, with a limit of one per vehicle.

Only an estimated one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survive to reach adulthood, and all six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as threatened or endangered and protected by the Endangered Species Act. Adult and hatchling sea turtles are often distracted or disoriented by manmade artificial light sources, which draw them away from the Gulf of Mexico and inland toward the artificial lights. Disoriented turtles often die from dehydration, officials said, are preyed upon by coyotes or ghost crabs, or sometimes crawl onto roads or parking lots where they are run over by cars.

By turning off excess outdoor lights at night and installing turtle friendly lights, residents and visitors can help to protect nesting and hatching sea turtles, officials said. Displaying turtle magnets on vehicles throughout the area reminds everyone of the importance of helping young sea turtles survive, officials said.

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