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Green sea turtles numbers up in Southwest Florida, across the state

Chad Gillis
The News-Press

An ecological success story is playing itself out on local beaches this summer as green sea turtles have returned to nest in notable numbers on Southwest Florida beaches. 

A handful of green sea turtles have nested on local beaches in the past two decades, but this year there are many nests in Lee and Collier counties. 

Bonita Beach in Bonita Springs has about two miles of beach and nine green sea turtle nests documented so far. 

"Conservation efforts are starting to pay off," said Eve Haverfield, with Turtle Time Inc. on Sanibel. "That’s the only credible and logical answer. Thirty years ago (green sea turtles) were on the brink of extinction."

Loggerhead sea turtles nest yearly on local beaches, but recently green sea turtles have nested mainly on the east coast of the Sunshine State. 

Historically, green sea turtles nested regularly on local beaches, but mostly stopped about 20 years ago due to a declining population. 

Haverfield and other sea turtle experts say laws like the Endangered Species Act and regulations aimed at saving sea turtles have allowed the populations to rebound. 

Know the list? See photos of Florida's endangered species

"To us this is an absolute thrill because heretofore the only time I had documented a green nest was in 2013, and we thought that was a fluke," Haverfield said. "I saw green crawls (tracks from a turtle crawling on sand) 20 years ago but that's about it." 

Of the 80 green sea turtles in a nest excavated by Turtle Time Inc. on Fort Myers Beach Sunday, August, 11, 2019, 38 survived and 42 did not including this one, which did not fully hatch. It will be will sent off for identification purposes.

Collier County has documented more than 1,700 sea turtle nests this year, and some of those have been green sea turtles, too. 

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Eve Haverfield, the founder of Turtle Time Inc., excavates the first green sea turtle nest ever documented on Fort Myers Beach on Sunday, August, 11, 2019, according to Haverfield. Thirty-eight hatchlings made it to the Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtles, including loggerheads and green sea turtles, are having a banner nesting year so far. Bonita and Sanibel have green sea turtle nests as well.

"This year we have a lot of green nests, which we rarely get," said Maura Kraus, a sea turtle expert for Collier County. "Greens nests every other year and maybe it’s a sign that in two or three years from now we’re going to see them on local beaches." 

Kraus said green sea turtles also nest later than some species, sometimes nesting as late as September. 

A number of Turtle Time Inc. volunteers were on hand to watch as the first documented green sea turtle nest was excavated on Sunday, August, 11, 2019 on Fort Myers Beach. Thirty-eight hatchlings made it to the Gulf of Mexico.

But the recovery started showing nearly a decade ago, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Simona Ceriani. 

Ceriani said turtle watchers don't yet know how many greens have nested across the state this year. 

"We can’t say whether 2019 would be an overall record year for greens but the overall trend for green turtle is a success story," she said. 

From only a few hundred 30 years ago, the green sea turtle population has exploded in recent years. 

A number of Turtle Time Inc. volunteers were on hand to watch as the first documented green sea turtle nest was excavated on Sunday, August, 11, 2019 on Fort Myers Beach. Thirty-eight hatchlings made it to the Gulf of Mexico.

More:Sea turtle hatchlings emerge from nest on Vanderbilt Beach, make first journey to the Gulf

And:Sea turtle hatchling trapped in Bonita Beach sandcastle, volunteers say

"By 2011, the count was up to 10,701 green turtle nests, in 2013, it was 25,553 nests, in 2015, it was about 28,000 and in 2017 it was a little over 39,000," she said in an email. "Green sea turtles nest every other year, which contributes to the pattern of two-year spikes in their nesting numbers in Florida. As green turtles nest every other year, 2019 is expected to be a high year for green turtle nest count." 

Haverfield said saving and protecting sea turtles is important because it helps balance the marine ecosystem. 

Of the 80 green sea turtles in a nest excavated by Turtle Time Inc. on Fort Myers Beach Sunday, August, 11, 2019, 38 survived and 42 did not including this one. It wil be will sent off for identification purposes.

"There’s seven species of sea turtles, but each species has a specific function in the ocean and that is to keep the oceans healthy — the oceans we rely on," Haverfield said. "One species eats only jellyfish and jellyfish eat fish eggs and that impacts the food supply we rely on." 

Connect with this reporter: @ChadGillisNP on Twitter. 

Eve Haverfield, the founder of Turtle Time Inc., excavates the first green sea turtle nest ever documented on Fort Myers Beach on Sunday, August, 11, 2019, according to Haverfield. Thirty-eight hatchlings made it to the Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtles, including loggerheads and green sea turtles, are having a banner nesting year so far. Bonita and Sanibel have green sea turtle nests as well. On the left is volunteer Jennie Worden. She found and documented the nest about two months ago.

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