The first turtle nest of the season in the 35-mile stretch of beach from Longboat Key to Venice hatched this week on Longboat Key.
Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Patrol discovered the nest June 22, on the Sarasota County side of the Key.
“The season is going great,” said Hayley Rutger, public relations coordinator at Mote Marine Laboratory, in an email. “Like last year, we have strong numbers of nests so far. As of June 21, we had 1,095 sea turtle nests in the 35 miles of local beaches.”
Although that’s a drop of nearly 20% from last year’s total of 1,367 nests through the eighth week of nesting season, researchers generally look at trends from the past five, 10 or even 20 years.
Nesting season began May 1, with members and volunteers of the Longboat Key Turtle Watch as well as Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Patrol walking the sandy shores in search of nests before dawn each morning.
While Mote’s patrol covers about 35 miles of beaches from the south of Longboat to Venice, the Longboat Key Turtle Watch is responsible for the Manatee County side, under a state research permit held by Mote.
But not all the action occurs during these morning strolls.
For about a month, Mote scientists have been busy tagging nesting sea turtles at night.
This practice helps determine which individual turtles are returning to local beaches to nest, providing important data for scientist’s understanding of sea turtle populations. This year, Mote has encountered 196 nesting turtles, including 91 new turtles that had never been documented in the area before. Mote scientists also found two turtles first tagged in 1987.
Recently, Turtle Watch volunteers found a nesting sea turtle stuck under a lounge chair on a local beach. The turtle made its way back to the ocean without nesting. To prevent such hazards to turtles during nesting season, which runs through October, there are a few rules to remember (see box, left).
Most importantly, residents must shield or turn off lights that are visible on the beach, for these can disorient turtles as they’re making their way back to the water. Residents and visitors must also remove beach furniture from the beach at night, for it can trap or disorient nesting turtles.
• If you come across a nesting turtle or hatchlings, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
• Turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
• Stack beach furniture at the dune line or remove it from the beach.
• Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
• Approach or disturb nesting turtles or hatchlings.
• Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach, and do not shine light at the turtles.
• Pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
• Use fireworks on the beach.
Contact Kelsey Grau at [email protected]