Here’s a shell shocker: Mote Marine’s Sea Turtle Patrol reported 1,284 loggerhead turtle nests in Sarasota and Manatee counties during the 2011 season — a level researchers haven’t seen since 2001. On Longboat Key, nesting numbers were slightly ahead of last year’s totals, with 275 nests reported during season, which runs from May through October. In 2010, a total 270 nests were discovered on the Key.
“Although a single year can’t tell us the overall trend, this year ended on an optimistic note for our most common local species, loggerhead sea turtles,” wrote Dr. Tony Tucker, manager of Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program, in an email to the Longboat Observer. “Loggerheads are a threatened species whose statewide nesting numbers have generally declined since 1998. Mote’s nesting counts for loggerheads seem to be stabilizing, and recent research suggests that loggerhead nesting numbers may rise and fall in long-term cycles.”
Green turtle nests were down, with just seven reported in Sarasota and Manatee counties, however, “ … greens follow an ‘every other year’ pattern with a year of higher nesting counts followed by a year of lower ones,” Tucker wrote. “In the last ‘up’ year, 2010, a record 40 green nests were documented in Sarasota County, which fits with positive trends around the state.”
Although nesting numbers can’t be traced to a single factor, this year turtles benefited from the fact that there were no major storms.
Freda Perrotta, a longtime volunteer with Longboat Key Turtle Watch, which patrols the Manatee County portion of the island’s beach, said that this year several nests were partially destroyed by high tides, although this year’s tides were no worse for turtles than those of past seasons.
Perrotta credited the group’s approximately 35 volunteers with helping make the season a success. She also said that public enthusiasm for the group’s evening nest openings has been gratifying this year.
“The volunteers have been fantastic this year,” she said. “The season has been good for us.”