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!
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is excited to have our friends at Atlantis, Paradise Island sponsor a turtle in this year’s Tour de Turtles for the fourth year in a row! The turtles they sponsored the last two years, Calypso Blue I and Calypso Blue II, won their respective marathons and traveled over 6,400 miles both years. Atlantis is hoping the streak will continue this year with its turtle, leatherback Calypso Blue III.
The lucky name originated from a Facebook naming contest. Debra Erickson, executive director of the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, said if Calypso Blue III wins this year “it would be like winning the Triple Crown.”
Atlantis is a resort and water park in The Bahamas that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It encompasses 14 lagoons and eight million gallons of salt water that contain more than 50,000 aquatic animals as well as caves, coral formations and underwater ruins that showcase many types of marine life from sea turtles and sharks to manta rays and moray eels.
Atlantis uses its vast collection for education and conservation efforts through the Atlantis Blue Project. “The Atlantis Blue Project started over seven years ago with the goal of using scientific research, education and public outreach to help protect our oceans,” Erickson said. “The project’s focus today is saving sea species and their habitats throughout The Bahamas and the Caribbean seas.”
Atlantis’ involvement in Tour de Turtles is part of that conservation effort. Erickson said that after 15 years of sea turtle display, breeding and conservation, Atlantis began to look for a way to expand its sea turtle conservation efforts through both research and public education and communications.
It was determined that Tour de Turtles was the perfect program to reach those goals, according to Erickson, because it “enables scientists to collect invaluable data on sea turtle migration while at the same time educating the public on the challenges that sea turtles face from ocean debris to boat strikes.”
Atlantis has continued to sponsor a turtle in the marathon for the past four years because of the program’s high level of engagement, Erickson said. It enables many individuals to follow sea turtles’ migration on a daily basis and spread the information through social media as well as allowing scientists to use the data collected to better understand and manage sea turtle species.
Erickson said, “We are looking forward to this year’s Tour de Turtles and seeing the results at the end of the race. The program allows Atlantis to continue its commitment to sea turtle conservation and gives us an opportunity to engage our guests and involve them in helping to preserve sea turtles.”
In addition to Tour de Turtles, Atlantis actively participates in other sea turtle conservation efforts. Each year, Atlantis’ Aquarists collect over 1,200 eggs laid by female turtles on its beach, place the eggs in replica nests at its Fish Hospital and release the young out on the beach once they hatch.