When it comes to nesting season, don’t count your turtles before they hatch. But so far, 2011 is starting off to be a good year for loggerhead turtles. Nesting numbers are currently up by 47.3% compared to the same point in 2010, with 81 nests on Longboat Key as of June 12, compared to 55 at the same time last year.
Veteran Longboat Key Turtle Watch member Freda Perrotta said that it’s still too early to say if this season will be good for turtles.
“You can’t make any predictions at this point,” she said. “We started nesting this year May 1, but last year, it wasn’t until May 15.”
According to Kristen Mazzarella, senior biologist and volunteer coordinator for Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program, a variety of factors affects sea-turtle nesting.
“We’ve had a good start to nesting season and we hope to continue getting these strong numbers,” she said. “Generally, the sea turtle species that visit our beaches will return to nest every two to three years, so last year’s turtles were probably different individuals than this year. That may partly explain why the numbers look different. But also, this year’s warmer water temperatures helped nesting start earlier. Temperature is a cue for nesting to begin.”
Storms are a wildcard when it comes to nesting season. For example in July 2005, when Hurricane Dennis brought heavy winds and rain to Longboat Key, approximately 75% of existing nests were destroyed.
Mazzarella said numerous factors can affect nesting numbers from year to year, but what is most important is monitoring numbers every year to determine ways to conserve sea turtles in the long term.
But if the turtles stay on track, the first nests of the season could hatch by the last weekend of June — bringing a new generation of hatchlings into the sea.
By the numbers
The following is a compellation of nesting numbers for the first seven weeks of turtle-nesting season from the past five years.
Year Nests False crawls
2011 81 60
2010 55 49
2009 84 59
2008 81 47
2007 37 23