Kamis, 23 Juli 2020

Sea Turtles Gone Wild: Nest numbers so far much larger than expected along Treasure Coast - TCPalm

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Green sea turtles apparently didn't get the memo: 2020 is supposed to be their "down" year for laying nests on the Treasure Coast.

"Greenies" typically adhere to a strict schedule: One year they lay a lot of nests, the next year very few, back to a big season, then back to a slow one, and so on.

"Greens are the big surprise this year," said Kendra Cope, president and founder of Coastal Connections Inc. in Vero Beach. "Over the last few 'low' years, we've been having 200 to 250 green sea turtle nests in Indian River County. Already this year, we've more than doubled that, and we're just halfway through the greens' season."

It's a similar story in Martin and St. Lucie counties, said Niki Desjardin, director of operations at Ecological Associates in Jensen Beach, which monitors sections of beaches in all three Treasure Coast counties.

During the last "down" year, 2018, Ecological Associates counted 92 green sea turtle nests in Martin County; already this year there have been 681. The company counted 30 "greenie" nests in St. Lucie County in 2018, 122 so far this year.

"In their 'on' years, they keep breaking record after record," said Zack Jud, education director at the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart. "And even in their 'off' years, the numbers keep getting bigger."

Early start

Sea turtle nesting season on the Treasure Coast typically runs from March through Nov. 15, although the first nest of the year was laid by a leatherback and found Feb. 6 just north of Santa Lucea Beach near Stuart on Hutchinson Island. It's the earliest nest on record in the state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

More:Sea turtle nesting season starts early on Treasure Coast

"If the low numbers are so high," Cope said, "it makes you wonder, 'How high are the next high numbers going to be?' "

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Leatherbacks and loggerheads, the other sea turtle species that nest along the Treasure Coast, are also having great seasons.

More:800-pound leatherback sea turtle lays eggs in Brevard County

"We haven't seen a new leatherback nest in three weeks," Cope said, "so they're likely done."

Leatherback nests throughout Indian River County totaled 74 this year, exactly twice as many as the 37 recorded last year and the second highest number since tallies began in 2005.

The same is true in Martin and St. Lucie counties, according to Ecological Associates numbers: A total of 442 leatherbacks in the two counties so far this year, compared to 232 for all of 2019.

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Loggerheads still coming

Loggerheads, by far the most prodigious local nest layers, are still coming ashore but in some cases have already surpassed last year's numbers.

For example, Ecological Associates counted 4,447 loggerhead nests in Martin County last year and already 4,666 this year.

"And they'll keep nesting for a couple of weeks and start tapering off in August," Desjardins said

More: Bucking climate change, male sea turtles born after multi-year hiatus

Continued monitoring is needed to make sure 2020 isn't a random spike year, Cope said. 

"The bottom line is that we're seeing the fruits of our labors," Cope said.

All sea turtles, their nests and their eggs are protected by federal and state laws. Only leatherbacks still are considered "endangered" by the federal Endangered Species Act. Loggerheads and green turtles are listed as "threatened."

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Sea turtles are protected and nesting season requires all beach lights to be darkened. GINNY BEAGAN/TCPALM Wochit

Sea turtles can take up to 30 years to reach maturity and start breeding, Jud said, "so we're seeing the results of laws and protections established years ago."

The protections extend beyond the United States: Laws against sea turtle harvesting in the Caribbean nations and the Bahamas are helping, too.

"Our efforts here help make sure more hatchlings make it to the ocean," Cope said. "But they migrate to the waters of many different countries. If those countries weren't making the shift from harvesting sea turtles to ecotourism, so many turtles wouldn't make it back here to lay eggs."

Make good better

You can help make a good sea turtle nesting season better by helping to keep beaches "clean, dark and flat," said DesJardins. Here's how:

  • Turn off the lights. Improper beachfront lighting from streets, residences and parking lots can keep nesting sea turtles from coming ashore to lay eggs and make hatchlings head inland, where they’re more likely to be eaten by predators, run over by cars or die from overheating and exhaustion.
  • Don't leave litter, fill in holes and bring in beach furniture at night; they can impede incoming mommas and outgoing babies.
  • Don't drive beach umbrella poles into the sand at or near nests and don't let dogs disturb nests.
  • If you see nesting turtles or hatchlings that appear to be struggling, call the FWC hotline at 888-404-3922 (FWCC) — program it into your phone now — and get an expert's advice before you act.
  • Report sea turtle nest poaching or harassing sea turtles on the beach by calling 911 or 888-404-FWCC. 

Nest numbers

Here are the sea turtle nest numbers for the 2020 season as of July 19 from Ecological Associates Inc., which monitors 6 miles of beaches in southern St. Lucie County, 11.5 miles of beaches in Martin County and 18 miles of beaches in Indian River County.

Green sea turtles

  • Martin: 681
  • St. Lucie: 122
  • Indian River: 496

Leatherbacks

  • Martin: 370
  • St. Lucie: 72
  • Indian River: 60

Loggerheads

  • Martin: 4,666
  • St. Lucie: 2,219
  • Indian River: 4,774

Source: Ecological Associates Inc.

Tyler Treadway is an environment reporter who specializes in issues facing the Indian River Lagoon. Support his work on TCPalm.com.  Contact him at 772-221-4219 and tyler.treadway@tcpalm.com.

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July 23, 2020 at 06:04PM
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Sea Turtles Gone Wild: Nest numbers so far much larger than expected along Treasure Coast - TCPalm

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