Sea Turtle Conservancy celebrated its 8th annual Tour de Turtles (TdT) with a live sea turtle release on August 2nd at the Barrier Island Center, located in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne, Florida.
Hundreds of people gathered to watch STC researchers release two adult female loggerheads sea turtles, named “Myrtle” and “Dash”, into the ocean to begin their migrations. Myrtle was named by her sponsors at Ripley’s Aquariums and Dash was named by her sponsors at Shark Reed Aquarium. The event was sponsored in part by the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate.
This year 13 sea turtles, representing four different species, were swimming in the race to conduct valuable research and raise public awareness about sea turtles.
The 2015 TdT included live turtle releases in Panama, Costa Rica, Nevis and Florida. This year is the first time a nesting turtle was released from Florida’s West Coast. Loggerhead “Amie” was named by her sponsors from the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch group and released in the Gulf of Mexico in June.
Before each turtle release, STC scientists attached a satellite transmitter to its shell using– safe epoxy or fiber class resin. The transmitter allows STC and the public to track the turtles as they travel and migrate from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds.
Meet the competitors!
Calypso Blue IV, Leatherback
Sponsor: Atlantis Paradise Island
Cause: Commercial Trawl Fisheries
Sponsor: Ripley’s Aquariums
Cause: Plastic Debris
Sponsor: Disney Conservation Fund
Cause: Plastic Debris
Susie Q, Green Turtle
Sponsor: Turtle & Hughes, Inc.
Cause: Light Pollution
Sponsor: Shark Reef
Cause: Commercial Longline Fisheries
Cause: Water Quality
Sponsor: Four Seasons
Cause: Water Quality
Sponsor: Continents Insolites SAS
Cause: Invasive Species Predation
Pawikan, Green Turtle
Cause: Egg Harvest for Consumption
Sponsor: Four Seasons
Cause: Climate Change
Cause: Illegal Shell Trading
Sponsor: The Turtle Hospital
Cause: Boat Strikes
Sponsor: Anna Maria Island
Cause: Beach Erosion
Turtle fans can follow the turtle’s migration online at www.tourdeturtles.org, and cheer on their favorite competitor while learning the threats that sea turtle face. Fans can support their favorite turtle online by virtual adopting, tweeting, or making a pledge for every mile the turtle swims. The turtle who swims the farthest by October 31 will be crowned the winner of the “race”. while the turtle who raises the mist support online, will be crowned the “People’s choice winner”.
Early numbers show that nesting by green and leatherback turtles is on an upward trend in Florida! Leatherbacks set a new record on many beaches and in the last five years, there has been a surprisingly high number of green sea turtles nesting along Florida’s coast.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s studies from this year show that green turtle nesting numbers have been following a pattern. Every two years nesting numbers fluctuate. The last two high records for green turtle nests were in 2011 and 2013. As predicted, nesting numbers were down from last year. However, there has been an overall exponential increase over the last 26 years for greens and leatherbacks in Florida.
Loggerheads deposited eggs in 46,885 nests this year. That count was from the state’s “index” locations at 26 beaches, where nest monitoring has been done by researchers using the same methods since 1989. Index counts are done during a 109-day window, which means tallies are smaller than annual totals, but the index data are valued for detecting trends.
Leatherback nesting numbers reached an all-time high this year and set a new record in Florida, according to FWC research scientists.
Since 2010, loggerhead nest counts at the index sites have amounted to a rebound. The count in 1998 of 59,918 plunged to 28,074 nests by 2007. But by 2012, the nest count was back up to 58,172.
One of the most important nesting beaches in the world for loggerheads is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast. So far this year, there has been 15,103 loggerhead sea turtle nests, 1,812 green turtle nests and 79 leatherback sea turtles nests (another new record for leatherbacks!)
The monitoring program on sea turtle nesting in Florida is an outstanding collaboration involving more than 2,000 individuals with diverse backgrounds who share a common passion for sea turtles. The extensive data collection from more than 800 miles of beach is made possible with the help of FWC-trained and authorized surveyors from conservation organizations; universities; federal, state and local governments; and hundreds of private citizens.
There is wide agreement that Florida and federal protections have contributed significantly to survival of sea turtles, especially green turtles, which were on the verge of disappearing from Florida in the 1970s. Laws protecting turtles and their nests have been accompanied by progressively better attitudes among communities in switching to sea turtle friendly lighting or removing bright lights all-together.
While nesting season may be coming to an end, hatchlings will continue to emerge from their nests for the next two months or so.
Sea turtles lay an average of 100 eggs per nest. That means we are expecting to welcome about 5 million new sea turtles to this world! Unfortunately, only one out of 1,000 hatchlings will make it to adulthood. The hatchling survival rate is so low due to predators, storms, getting disoriented by bright lights, ingesting marine debris, etc. Predators such as certain fish, dogs, birds, ants, raccoons, ghost crabs, and more feed on baby sea turtles and eggs, so survival on land and in water is risky. Also, hatchlings may mistake small floating pieces of plastic for food, which can be deadly to them. It’s important for Florida residents to help make both the beaches and ocean a safe place for the hatchlings to begin their lives!
If you spot a hatchling in distress, such as one washed back from a storm or wandering far from the beach, do not pick it up and return to the water. Instead, you should contact the nearest sea turtle facility or the Florida Fish and Wildlife at 1-888-404–FWCC for help. Often times these hatchlings need some time to rest and recuperate before trying to head back out to the ocean. Stay tuned for the official sea turtle nesting numbers to come later this year!
It’s that time of the year again; nesting season is officially in full swing throughout the state of Florida! About 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place on Florida’s beaches, which means it is critical that residents and visitors alike do their part to ensure that sea turtles have a safe and successful nesting season. By reading the tips below, you can do your part to make sure they’re made part of your beach routine from the months of May through October. Don’t forget to share these tips with friends and family so everyone can work towards creating a safer environment for all sea turtles.
Watch those lights. In order to prevent nesting and hatchling turtles from wandering off track, your beachfront property should use sea turtle friendly lighting, help by closing drapes and blinds, and shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach. By following these steps, you can encourage females to nest and lead hatchlings in the right direction, the ocean! Click here to learn more about artificial lighting.
Knock down that sandcastle. Although this is every kid’s nightmare, it’s important to knock your sandcastle over and flatten out the sand at the end of the day. Additionally, filling in all holes made in the sand can avoid the entrapment of hatchlings while on their way to the water. Furthermore, remove all toys like buckets, shovels, or other beach tools. Additional information on threats from beach activity.
Avoid the attraction of unwanted pests. Raccoon, foxes, coyotes and other types of animals all have one thing in common: they love our leftovers. Raccoons destroy thousands of sea turtle eggs each year and are one of the greatest causes of sea turtle mortality on Florida’s beaches. You can help deter these animals from destroying sea turtle eggs by cleaning up food and additional trash after a day at the beach. Recycling is another way to reduce the plastic debris that kills over 100 million marine animals are killed each year. For more information on how you eliminate waste, visit TerraCycle.com or purchase one of our STC reusable bags. Additionally, our website has more information on the threats from invasive species, click here if interested.
Put FWC on speed dial. Program the phone number for your area’s wildlife stranding hotline into your phone so you’ll be prepared if you happen to encounter a dead, sick, stranded or injured sea turtle. It is also important to report any harassment of sea turtles or disturbance of nests. In Florida, you can call FWC Wildlife Alert Number at 1-888-404-3922 or visit their website. For other states, you can find a list of contact info here.
Don’t interfere with the hatching process. It’s important to allow hatchlings to crawl to the water on their own. Many scientists believe the journey from nest to water allows them to imprint on their own beach. Picking up hatchlings may interfere with this process and is also illegal.
Don’t place your beach furniture too close to a marked nest. If possible, place furniture at least 5 feet away. Furniture can mislead turtles during the hatching process and also entrap them. Also make sure to put away your beach furniture at the end of the day.
Don’t use fireworks on the beach. Although this can be tempting with 4th of July right around the corner, think about how the loud noises and bright lights can disturb nesting females. Instead, many local organizations hold inland fireworks displays for your enjoyment.
If you would like to watch a nesting turtle, join an organized sea turtle walk. In Florida and other states where sea turtles nest, turtle watches are conducted by trained and permitted individuals. The goal is to educate people about sea turtles through direct contact, without disturbing the turtles. Register to join an STC Turtle Walk and learn more information about nesting season by visiting our website at /.