Sea turtle nesting season is well under way and this year’s nest numbers for Loggerheads, the predominant nester in Florida, are slightly ahead of those at about the same time last year. Coastal Wildlife Club (CWC) turtle patrol volunteers walk the beaches of Manasota Key and the north end of Knight Island every morning at first light looking for nests as well as false crawls (the female sea turtle comes ashore but does not successfully nest.) They document and report nesting data to the state.
As of Friday, June 26, there were 2733 Loggerhead nests, 36 Green nests and two Kemp’s ridley nests. Tropical storm Cristobel with its high tides and surf, washed away some stakes marking nests but CWC patrollers are optimistic that at least a portion of the eggs in those nests remain in place due to the depth at which the eggs are buried.
While the length of incubation varies greatly, the average is about 50 days on Manasota Key. The earliest nests, those recorded in late April and early May, are hatching now, and every night for the next several months, two-inch hatchlings will emerge from the sand. For these little turtles, it is vital you fill in any holes that you have made playing in the sand and making the thoughtful gesture of filling in any holes forgotten by other beachgoers. Hatchlings can fall into small holes, too, on their way to the water, becoming stuck, easy prey for birds or even dying in the hole. Large holes are a threat to hatchlings and to nesting females. Beside holes, beach chairs, canopies, floats and other items left on the beach may become insurmountable obstacles for the hatchings. Please take the time to remove these at the end of the day – hatchings need every advantage to survive. Only one in 1000 makes it to adulthood!
Most people are aware that dogs are not allowed on public and state park beaches. For turtles and shorebirds, your family pet is a real danger. It’s a dog’s nature to dig and they may dig up turtle nests. Even their presence on the beach can scare off nesting shorebirds which associate their smell with four legged predators such as coyotes and raccoons. As a result, the birds may abandon their nests and eggs. On private beaches, please keep your pet on a leash this time of year.
Now with sea turtle nesting and hatching ongoing, please be extra vigilant about extinguishing all beach-facing outdoor lights and closing blinds. Lights are a particular threat on the south end of Manasota Key along Shore View Drive and Gulf Blvd. Some nests there are so close to buildings that “even ‘turtle safe’ lights are not turtle safe,” according to Wilma Katz, Vice President of the CWC. Hatchings use the light of the night sky over the Gulf to navigate their way down to the water. They become disoriented by competing artificial light which draws them towards it instead of to the water. Too often, this leads to their demise in parking lots and around building exteriors. As a Independence Day note: CWC urges you please do not use fireworks of any kind on Gulf beaches.
There are approximately 150 dedicated sea turtle patrol volunteers who carry out their patrols during COVID-19 wearing face coverings and social distancing. They love to answer your questions about the sea turtles and their work, just requesting that you practice social distancing. If you are on the beach at dawn, tag along for a while to see the important work they do in helping the Loggerhead, Green and Kemp’s ridley turtle population survive and thrive. You can follow the Coastal Wildlife Club on their Facebook page to see the latest nesting statistics.