Turtle nests abound on Lee, Collier county beaches
Special to news-press.com
This photograph of a loggerhead sea turtle hatchling was taken by Eve Haverfield, founder of Turtle Time Inc., last summer on Fort Myers Beach. Sea turtle nesting season season begins Thursday and runs through Oct. 31. / Special to news-press.com
The number of turtle nests on beaches in Lee and Collier counties and around the state are shocking even the experts. In many areas there are more than double the number of nests from this time last year and the turtles keep coming ashore laying more eggs.
“We’re thrilled with our nesting numbers,” said Eve Haverfield, president and founder of Turtle Time, a nonprofit group that monitors sea turtles in South Lee County. “We’ve not seen numbers like this, this early. We are seeing this rush of turtles come onshore.”
The loggerhead turtle is on the endangered species list.
Blair Witherington, research scientist for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, uses 32 beaches in Florida as index beaches to study trends in nesting.
“Loggerhead nesting this May was double what it was in 2011 and that’s pretty amazing,” Witherington said. We are having large numbers on all the beaches. The nests are up everywhere.”
What else that’s pretty amazing is the reasons are a big mystery.
There are all kinds of theories floating around about why this is happening. Haverfield heard that it is part of an El Nino syndrome, where numbers rise and plummet depending on the El Nino weather patterns.
Maura Kraus, senior environmental specialist for Collier County Department of Natural Resources, said part of it could be due to a turtle program in the 1980s where dozens of hatchlings were raised in captivity and then released when they were older and bigger. But that’s only Kraus’ guess.
“It’s crazy and it is continuing to be crazy,” said Kraus. “I don’t know what is going on.”
Experts also point to the warmer water that sparked an early start to the season. Although turtle nesting season officially began in May, Captiva had its first nest on April 20 followed by a nest on Bonita Beach on April 23. Female turtles typically start nesting when the water temperature hits 80 degrees so the warmer winter and warmer water sparked an early start.
There are already 51 nests on Bonita Beach compared to 21 last year and six in 2010. Fort Myers Beach has 29 nests compared to five last year and three in 2010 and even Big Hickory Island has six nests compared to zero last year and one in 2010.
Even with the big numbers Haverfield doesn’t know how the season will end up.
“Right now, it’s pretty cool,’’ she said.
The same is being said in Collier County. Officials there have never seen this many nests so early in the season.
There are a whopping 517 nests on Collier beaches now. On many beaches the numbers are double and even triple. For example Barefoot Beach has 53 nests compared to 24 last year. Delnor-Wiggins State Park boasts of 21 compared to six last year, Vanderbilt has 93 compared to 29 in 2011 and Parkshore is looking out for 80 nests compared to 27 last year. The list goes on and on with almost every beach in Collier more than doubling in nests.
“All the beaches are like that,” Kraus said. “It’s incredible.”
Sanibel and Captiva are also having an amazing turtle season.
“So far we are having a really great year. I don’t know if that is because we had a really great start,” said Amanda Bryant who monitors turtles for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.
“My fear, a little, is that they had a really good start and they will finish early and it will be an average year.”
Sanibel has 126 nests compared to 79 this time last year and Captiva has 43 nests compared to 38 last year at this time.
“I had to order supplies because we are running out of things like predator control screens and supplies needed for that,” Bryant said. “That’s a problem I enjoy having. I like having more nests. We are off to a really great start.”
This great nesting season isn’t just in Southwest Florida but around the state.
“Manasota Key had more than 700 loggerhead nests and that is mind-boggling,” Bryant said.
That’s about 200 more than last year.
“That kind of increase leads me to think it is more than an early nesting season,” Bryant said.
Haley Rutger, a communications specialist with Mote Marine, said numbers are high on the 35 miles of beach they monitor from Longboat Key to Venice.
“In our patrol area they have been strong this year,” Rutger said.