Sea turtle hatchlings nearly double the most recorded at Cape Romano near Marco
Brian and Nancy Stolliker captured video of baby sea turtles that had just hatched on south beach in Marco Island in July 2018. Naples
More than 10,000 loggerhead sea turtles hatched this season at Cape Romano, almost twice as many as the previous record since monitoring began 12 years ago, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported this week.
The record number of hatchlings at the Cape Romano Complex, south of Marco Island, is good news after a difficult summer, when dozens of sea turtles were found dead along Collier shores, likely victims of a red tide bloom that persisted along the Gulf Coast for months.
A recent Rookery Bay Research Reserve assessment of the Cape Romano Complex found 10,752 hatchlings emerged this nesting season from 146 nests, with an estimated 74 percent emergence success, DEP reported.
That’s a record for hatchlings at the complex since monitoring and nest caging began in 2006. The previous record for hatchlings at the Cape Romano Complex was 6,046 in 2014, according to DEP.
The Rookery Bay Research Reserve has increased hatching success by close to 100 percent since the reserve began installing cages to protect the sea turtle nests from raccoons and other predators, the reserve’s director, Keith Laakkonen, said in a prepared statement.
This year’s hatchling record came with 29 fewer nests than in 2016, which was a banner year for sea turtles, Laakkonen said.
Kelly Cook captured video of baby sea turtles that had just hatched on Naples Beach and were crawling to the Gulf of Mexico in July 2018. Naples Daily News
Every morning during nesting season, a summer intern and local volunteers patrol the beaches, looking for nests and installing cages. Once the eggs have hatched, the cages are removed, the nests are excavated and the empty shells are counted to determine the number of hatchlings, DEP said.
The Rookery Bay Research Reserve credited beachgoers with keeping the beach clean and removing obstacles, which helps nesting female turtles and hatchlings get to the water safely. To aid sea turtles during their nesting season (from May through October), beachgoers should remove beach furniture, fill in holes and smooth out sandcastles before leaving the beach, the reserve said.
Loggerhead sea turtles are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy. The greatest threats to the species are loss of habitat due to coastal development, predation of nests and coastal lighting, which disorients the turtles.
Sea turtles nest at intervals of two to four years and lay three to six nests a season, with an average of 100 to 126 eggs per nest, according to the conservancy.