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Sea turtle nesting season starts soon on quieter beaches

Chad Gillis
Marco Eagle

Hundreds of female loggerhead sea turtles will soon start lumbering onto local beaches and depositing eggs in a natural cycle that's gone on here for thousands of years. 

Sea turtle nesting in Southwest Florida runs from April 15 through Oct. 31 and is one of the wildlife highlights of the summer months. 

Monitoring on Lee and Collier beaches starts Wednesday, although it's unlikely females will begin to emerge for another 10 days or so. 

"We really don't know what to expect," said Maura Kraus, Collier County's top turtle biologist. "We never do with wild animals, but we're excited to start."

Sea turtles nesting in Southwest Florida have not had it easy in recent years. 

Hurricane Irma plowed up the coast toward the end of the the 2017 season, and hundreds of sea turtles washed up dead on local beaches during the environmentally crippling red tide outbreak of 2018. 

Oddly, a record 1,953 nests were recorded on beaches monitored in Collier, and another 1,728 nests were recorded there in 2018. 

"We saw a real upbeat in 2016, and 2017 it went down," Kraus said of recent numbers. "But these aren't the same (batches) of turtles. They migrate to different feeding areas and go to their areas to nest. These are groups of turtles (to form larger groups) and that's why we see up and down years." 

Kraus said there have been 10 sea turtle strandings so far in Collier this year. 

She and her crew of 10 workers and volunteers cover about 26 miles of nesting beaches in Collier. 

Some areas, like Barefoot Beach and Vanderbilt, are known for predatory raccoons and coyotes. 

Kraus and the crew place metal cages over nests there. 

""Hopefully the raccoons aren't too hungry because there are no people on the beach feeding them," she said. "They may just go straight to the eggs. The cages keep them out but they can get to them sometimes before we do." 

Kraus said this summer will be interesting because there will often be more sea turtle tracks and fewer human footprints due to the national emergency, but that could be a good thing for the breeding turtles. 

"One thing about not having people on the beach is we'll see better about the nests and false crawls because people scare them away at night," he said. 

A false crawl is when a pregnant female emerges but does not deposit eggs. 

Beaches in Lee County are monitored by various groups. 

Heather Barron, top veterinarian at the Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or CROW, on Sanibel said she's excited to see the season start. 

"They say in other areas that it's going to be a good season," Barron said. "I wish I could go out on the walks. It would be awesome." 

Six volunteers and staff monitor beaches in Lee County, and CROW takes in wildlife from various parts of Southwest Florida. 

State wildlife officers said the public should be aware of sea turtle nesting season and not harm their breeding process when local beaches do open to humans. 

"You can help by keeping beaches dark at night and free of obstacles during," said Michelle Kerr, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman. "Artificial lighting can disturb nesting sea turtles and disorient hatchlings, so avoid using flashlights or cellphones on the beach at night. Turn out lights or close curtains and shades in buildings along the beach after dark to ensure nesting turtles aren’t disturbed." 

About 90% of Florida's sea turtle nesting occurs on the east coast, Kraus said. 

Connect with this reporter: @ChadGillisNP on Twitter. 

While the beaches are ideal now for the sea turtles with the safer-at-home orders in place, the Eagle thought these guidelines from the city of Marco Island would be good reminders to have. There are important guidelines and phone numbers below.    

Did you know that on average there are 80 loggerhead sea turtle nests per year on the four miles of Marco Island’s beach?

Whether you live here or are just visiting, you can easily participate in protecting these threatened creatures and their important nesting environment.

From now through early August, female loggerhead sea turtles crawl out of the Gulf of Mexico and nest on Marco Island’s beach. The baby turtles, or hatchlings, will emerge 60 days after the nests are laid.

Hatchlings generally are emerging from early July through the end of October each year. 

Marco Island beach is vital to the sea turtle’s continued survival in Southwest Florida.

How can you help? Three simple ways.

Sea turtle conservation, guidelines, phone numbers

1. Beach lighting compliance

Crawling onto the beach at night, the female turtles lay their nests and then instinctually are compelled back to the naturally bright horizon over the Gulf of Mexico. Artificial lights on the upland and shoreline disorient the sea turtles and deter them from nesting or from returning to the ocean. 

Likewise, the hatchlings will travel inland toward the brighter artificial light, using the energy they need to swim into the Gulf of Mexico. If they are disoriented, they often die from dehydration and are easily preyed upon by fire ants, ghost crabs, and birds.

If you can see your shadow on the beach at night – the light is too bright. 

To decrease disorientation of sea turtles:

  • Turn off all unnecessary lights
  • Close blinds and curtains
  • Shield light sources
  • Apply window tint to windows
  • Don’t use decorative landscape lighting on the beach side
  • Plant vegetation buffers between light sources and beach
  • Don’t use flashlights or flash photography on the beach at night.

2. Keep beach free of barriers

All beach furniture, equipment, and garbage should be removed from the beach every night. Pick up your trash. Sea turtles need a beach free of barriers for nesting and hatchling success.

3. Report injured or dead turtles

In the event you discover an injured or dead sea turtle, notify one of the following agencies immediately:

City of Marco Island

  • 239-389-5000 (weekdays)
  • 239-793-9300 (weekdays/evenings)

Collier County Natural Resources Department

  • 239-732-2505 (weekends)
  • Page # 239-890-6486 (weekends/evenings)

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission 

  • Sea Turtle Stranding Network: 1-888-404-FWCC (3922)

Note

  • It takes a female turtle one to three hours to lay an average of 100 eggs in the sand.
  • A female turtle can nest several times per season (up to 7) but may only nest every two to three years.
  • The female turtle uses her rear flippers to dig the nest cavity before depositing her eggs.
  • Male turtles spend their lives in the open ocean never crawling up on the beach.
  • The temperature of the sand determines the sex of the hatchlings.
  • It is estimated that only 1 in 1000 sea turtle hatchlings will survive to reproductive maturity.