Sea turtle nests
Sea turtle nesting season runs from May through October in Southwest Florida. Loggerheads nest several times during a nesting season, and they often return to the same nesting beaches every two or three years.
2009 (through Sept. 21) 2008
Collier County nests 510 694
2009 (through Sept. 12) 2008
Bonita Beach nests 36 52
Two hatchling loggerhead sea turtles made a mad dash Tuesday night into the Gulf of Mexico as about 30 people cheered them on.
The half-dollar-sized turtles were rescued from their nest early Tuesday, three days after 24 of their siblings made it out.
About 7:35 p.m. Tuesday on Bonita Beach, Eve Haverfield, founder and director of the non-profit Turtle Time Inc. in Bonita Springs, gently placed the two hatchlings about 10 feet from the water.
They used their miniature flippers, crawling across the sand toward the light reflecting off the Gulf waters. Within a couple of minutes, a wave gently washed over the first one, carrying it into the Gulf. The second one made it about a minute later.
Now comes the hard part — scientists believe about one in every 1,000 survives to reproductive age.
The past 10 years have seen a dramatic decline in turtle nests in Southwest Florida.
In 1998, 1,098 sea turtle nests were reported in Collier County between May 1 and Oct. 31, Southwest Florida’s sea turtle nesting season.
Through September 21 of this year, 510 nests were recorded in Collier County, according to the Collier County Parks and Recreation Web site. That’s down from last year’s total of 694 nests.
“The numbers are down this year for most beaches,” said Beth Brost, a biological scientist with the sea turtle research program at Florida Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. “There is a decline in the trend. I believe this is the fourth lowest year since the index program started in 1989.”
Specific data of how many turtles have nested this year along Southwest Florida’s coasts will not be available until January or February, but indications at index beaches – select beaches throughout the state — show fewer nested this year. Statewide tracking has been ongoing since 1979.
In Southwest Florida, Sanibel Island, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park and Keewaydin Island are classified index beaches.
The decline makes events like Tuesday’s release all the more special for those who were able to see it.
Nancy and Bob Passwater who have visited the area for six years but moved to Estero in August, along with friends Beth and Ed Conrad, went to the beach Tuesday evening expecting to see a sunset.
“I came down to see a beautiful sunset and I get more,” Beth Conrad said. “Another day in paradise.”
Nancy Passwater said it was her first time seeing the threatened sea turtles.
“This is exciting to see them walking to the water for the very first time,” she said shortly after Haverfield allowed the crowd to take pictures of the babies crawling in the sand before their release.
Though Turtle Time volunteers excavated the nest early Tuesday, the turtles could not immediately be released into the water because of the heat of the day and possible predators.
The turtles were “imprinted” on the beach shortly after they were found, said Haverfield, who has volunteered with the sea turtle program for 30 years, walking beaches to count turtle nests. Scientists have found that female turtles return to the same beach where they hatched to lay eggs, so it is important to let babies “learn” where they hatched. If the hatchlings were female, they could return in 20 to 50 years to lay their own eggs.
Haverfield took the opportunity of the gathered crowd to educate people about turtles.
Loggerhead turtles average about 200 pounds but can weigh more.
Unnatural light can confuse sea turtles as they follow the reflection of light off the Gulf to steer them toward the water, she said.
That’s why it is so important to turn off outside lights during turtle nesting season which, ends Oct. 31.
No one Tuesday night was allowed to use a flash camera for about 45 minutes before the turtles were set free.
Benjamin Hammond, who turns 4 in November, has spent half of his life volunteering to walk the beaches looking for turtle nests with his father, Mike Hammond, who is a Lee County park ranger.
“It’s good and it was fun too,” Benjamin said while splashing along the shoreline shortly after one of the hatchlings touched his hand with its flipper.
E-mail Valli Finney at firstname.lastname@example.org.