Sea turtle nesting officially hatches May 1.
As the car carriers come and the snowbirds return north, the beaches are set to become even more crowded — with turtles.
Turtle nesting season officially kicks off May 1, and scientists and volunteers are hoping for the upward trend from previous years to continue.
“The trend has been good since 2008, so we’re hoping for even better this year,” said Kristen Mazzarella, senior biologist with the Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program at Mote Marine Laboratory. “We’re always hoping for more turtles this year than the last.”
Mote has monitored 35 miles of turtle nests from Longboat Key to Venice for 35 years. A total 2,475 loggerhead and green turtle nests were laid last year, breaking 2012’s record by six nests.
Although nesting season doesn’t officially begin until May 1, some nests were laid in late April last year.
“A good indication of knowing when nests will appear is things like water temperature rising into the 80s,” Mazzarella said. “Turtle nesting also tends to start first on the east coast of Florida, so we know we can expect nests soon after that. But neither of those has yet to happen. We never really know when the first nests will be.”
Between 250 and 300 volunteers began patrolling the beaches for nests April 15, looking for turtle tracks and nests each morning around sunrise. Based on the tracks on the sand, volunteers can tell the type of turtle nest and where it is located.
Each nests contains more than 100 eggs, and a mother will return multiple times to the same beach each season to lay nests. Just one in 1,000 hatchlings will make it to adulthood, and in 25 to 30 years, female turtles will return to the same beach they were born to lay their own eggs.
Because all sea turtle species are considered threatened or endangered, it is important for residents and visitors to share the beach
with the turtles and their nests.
Mote asks people to turn off lights visible from the beach, which can cause disorientation for hatchlings, which are drawn toward the brightest horizon and will head toward the light and away from the water.
People should also take equipment and furniture off the beach at night and fill in holes to prevent false crawls, which happen when a nesting turtle crawls up the beach to nest but does not due to disturbances by people, lights or obstacles.
“We always hope we can get rid of human impact,” Mazzarella said. “From lighting to furniture to holes on the beach and people disturbing turtles at night while they’re nesting, we hope to do anything we can to reduce human impact.”
Last June, a nesting female became entangled in a chair and dragged it 149 feet to the water. The turtle was able to escape, but in other cases, a turtle cannot break free from the chair and can drown.
“Nobody wants to say don’t go out and have fun, but we hope people can leave no trace,” said Cyndi Seamon, Longboat Key Turtle Watch vice president. “No matter where you go, go out and enjoy it and have fun, but take everything off the beach with you. Leave only your footprints. It’s a beautiful beach, and it’s pretty special we get to share it with sea turtles. Not a lot of places have that.”
Turtle nesting season runs May 1 to Oct. 31.