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!