The 2010 turtle-nesting season officially began May 1, with many more serious problems facing the sea-turtle population than ever before. Of course, we’re all terribly concerned as to where and how the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will play out and how it will impact the female sea turtles coming to our beaches to make a nest and lay their eggs.
But what has been playing out prior to this is the long spell of very cold weather, which rendered many of our sea-turtle friends cold-stunned. That is just what the words imply. The animals are unable to function at all and need to have the warmth and care provided by a stay at Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital. As you can imagine, the hospital was stretched well beyond its capacity. Happily, the primary vet caregiver,
Lynne Byrd, has done a fabulous job keeping up with the large number of turtle patients. Kudos to her.
The cold affected more than 4,000 turtles statewide, many of which have been treated at other rehabilitation facilities throughout the state.
Why do we go to all this trouble and effort? It’s a matter of both humanity and respect. These are magnificent animals that pre-date mankind. They go back millions of years; in many other cultures the turtle is the symbol of longevity.
That’s why all the dedicated turtle-watch groups try to see to it that as many eggs as possible successfully hatch and as many hatchlings as possible make it out of the nest and back to the water. The female lays approximately 100 pingpong-sized eggs, but once the hatchlings emerge from their shells, only one in 1,000 makes it to maturity.
Everyone can help — starting now — by paying attention to the dos and don’ts listed in the box above.
Here is a list of tips to help keep beaches turtle-friendly during nesting season.
• If you encounter a nesting turtle, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
• Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
• Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water.
• Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
• Place trash in its proper place.
• Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise or shine lights at turtles.
• Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach.
• Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
• Use fireworks on the beach.
Virginia Sanders is the spokesperson for the Longboat Key Turtle Conservation Program, serves on the Citizens Advisory Board of the National Estuary Program and is a Mote Marine volunteer.
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