MARCO ISLAND — Sea turtle nesting season hasn’t quite begun, but not every turtle in Collier County seems to know that.
Sea turtle nesting season runs from May 1 through October 31.
“In April we have had eight stranded sea turtles, and the season hasn’t officially begun,” said Collier County Parks and Recreation Principal Environmental Specialist Maura Kraus.
Last year sea turtle disorientation increased on Marco Island and throughout Collier County from 2007.
Sea turtles are protected by laws on the city, county, state and federal levels.
Kraus, as well as Marco’s environmental specialist, Nancy Richie, joins the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in asking Islanders to turn out the lights on the beach. The reason, to avoid disorientation and “false crawls” by Florida’s five species of sea turtles, including the loggerhead.
Last year, there were 34 nests on Marco Island with only 13 hatching. These were extremely lower numbers than 2007, Richie said.
To further compound the lower number of nests, 50 “false crawls” occurred, she added.
Artificial lights confuse sea turtles and interfere with their natural instincts by steering hatchlings in the wrong direction and discouraging the females from nesting.
“She emerges from the Gulf ready to lay her eggs, but is confused or disorientated, which results in her crawling back to the Gulf without nesting or dropping her eggs as she leaves the beach — a false crawl,” Richie wrote in a prepared letter to Marco’s beach dwellers, including the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort Golf Club and Spa and Hideaway Beach homeowners.
Richie said the Marriott is particularly proactive with Michael Tighe of the Island resort implementing practices, such as informing guests of the sea turtle season upon check-in, leaving written information in rooms and calling guests at about 9 p.m. each evening to remind guests to pull the black drapes in their rooms.
Richie said the resort has changed their cleaning times and closed the pool early so deck lighting can be turned off.
“It is quite an effort but all this did succeed last year and no disorientations occurred by this property,” she said.
Artificial lights can cause the death of hatchlings due to disorientation. They will travel inland toward the brighter, artificial lights, expending the energy they need to swim into the Gulf of Mexico. With only one out of 1,000 hatchlings making it to maturity, every hatchling counts to sustain this species’ population, officials report.
With compliance, disorientation can be a “zero” occurrence, Richie said.
She reported that on Marco Island last season, there were 69 violations, including 30 verbal warnings, and citations given for lighting issues.
Any lights visible to the beach after 9 p.m. should be turned off or shielded.
“If you can see the direct light or your shadow on the beach, the light is too bright,” Richie said.
Even the light emitted from cell phones should not be directed toward the water between dusk and dawn, said Gabriella Ferraro, FWC spokeswoman.
“Just one light can kill thousands of turtles over several years,” said FWC biologist Robbin Trindell.
The sea turtles need a beach free of any barriers that would prevent nesting, so beach furniture, toys, tents, any other equipment and all garbage should be removed from the beach every night, Richie said.
The Florida loggerhead population is one of only two large loggerhead nesting populations worldwide.
Females come back to the same beach where they hatched decades earlier.
Instinct tells the one-inch to two-inch hatchling to head toward the brightest horizon and away from dark silhouettes. Before development, the brightest horizon shone over the ocean, and the hatchlings would move away from the shadows on the dunes and begin the crawl to the sea.
If a hatchling is stranded on the beach when the sun rises, its chance for survival diminishes as dehydration and sun exposure become hazards.
Florida’s five sea turtle species include the loggerhead, which has the largest population, as well as green and leatherback sea turtles. Two other species, Kemp’s Ridley and hawksbill sea turtles, nest infrequently in Florida but inhabit state waters. The FWC lists the loggerhead as a threatened species; the other four are listed as endangered.
During the 2008 season, there were 755 false crawls throughout Collier County, an increase from 2007, reported Camden Smith, a county spokeswoman, in a prepared release Friday.
Sea turtles laid 657 nests last year county-wide and about half of them hatched.
To report dead or injured sea turtles or disoriented hatchlings, please immediately call the Marco Island Sea Turtle Monitor, Mary Nelson at 289-9736 or call the Florida Fish & Wildlife anytime at 1-888-404-3922.
More information about Florida’s sea turtles is available on the Web site helpingseaturtles.org. Wildlife-friendly lighting options are listed on the FWC Web site by going to MyFWC.com/Conservation and clicking on “Conservation & You.”