2016 Turtle Nesting Season Ends
Turtles and people humble Eve Haverfield, the founder of Turtle Time, Inc., a non-profit established in 1989 for the benefit of marine turtles on Big Hickory Island as well as Bonita, Bunche and Fort Myers Beaches.
“It is humbling to look back at our first year when we had 5 Fort Myers Beach nests, compared to this year when we set our second consecutive record with 92 – that is remarkable! Because of the beach’s tourist-transient nature, this is quite a challenge, but the results prove that getting everyone into compliance is possible.”
These 92 nests produced 8,322 eggs, with 4,453 living hatchlings. “While that sounds incredible, perhaps only 4 grow into adulthood, putting the odds against them at 1,000 to one,” she relates. “That makes every egg indispensable. Most become part of the ocean and Gulf food chains, a balance that’s worked for over 200 million years. If humans interfere, the chain collapses and since we and turtles are interdependent on each other, we all lose.”
Eve says that the time from July 1 to August 31 – basically between Tropical Storm Colin and Hurricane Hermine – was extremely successful, leading to a 54% successful rate on Fort Myers Beach, and 66% at all four locales, “and that is great!.”
She relates that “we are witnessing a gradual increase in Loggerhead numbers over the past three years. The question becomes, is this simply a cyclical trend or an actual species recovery? It takes 30 to 50 years for turtles to mature, so it will be several more years to know if conservation efforts are paying off. It is nice, however, to have positive numbers because from 2002 to 2011 Loggerheads declined. I am cautiously optimistic.”
Nine Little Miracles
The season ended with extraordinarily happy moments, like the 2nd to the last nest on Bonita Beach. It had been covered with an extra 2 feet of sand due to storms. “We cannot dig out a nest until after 70 days,” Eve joyously recalls, “so when we went to it we expected to find a bunch of dead and gone babies, but 9 little miracle hatchlings were alive and well. The final nest was on Fort Myers Beach and of 93 eggs, 60 hatched – it is such a thrill to end the year on such happy notes!”
2016 featured a record-setting 270 total nests in the area Turtle Time monitors, easily exceeding the 2012 record of 203. Fort Myers Beach’s 92 nests bested last year’s 73. Bonita Beach had 160, shattering its 2012 high of 122, with 16 on Big Hickory Island and 2 on Bunche Beach.
Nesting turtles travel thousands of miles, from their feeding grounds back to the beach of their birth. Loggerheads nest 3 to 7 times a season, with hatchlings having an incubation period of roughly 2 months. The nest temperature determines their gender: cooler sand means mostly males, warmer females. Hatchlings move toward water as soon as they climb out of their sandy nest, based on natural seaward light where the sky and water meet on the horizon, but if they see a brighter, usually artificial light, they move toward that, sealing their doom.
This intermixes negative tones into all the positive marks, with Eve explaining that 2016 had “an inordinate amount of disorientations due to improper lighting, including two adults that crawled hundreds of feet to offending lights before finding the Gulf. We hope stricter code enforcement in 2017 will resolve this. We lost 23 nests due to storms, but we expect natural events to occur – it is the cycle of life.”
LED Lights the Way
With turtle season complete, Fort Myers Beach residents and visitors can turn their beach front lights on again, but Eve hopes just because they can, they will not. She encourages them to use amber LED lights that do not affect turtles. “Those who do lower their energy bills by as much as 70% while providing significant security for safety. Amber lights have a different wavelength, provide plenty of light, are actually quite pretty and their price falls every year. The Pierview Hotel & Suites installed them in their entire building, with no complaints and are thrilled with the results.”
Although official nesting season is from May 1 through October 31, Eve comments that “we actually begin monitoring on April 15, with a movement to make that the new start date, as warmer Gulf temperatures cause turtles to nest earlier. Mother Nature sets her own parameters!”
Eve thanks everyone on Fort Myers Beach for their help. “A lot of people appreciate that turtles nest here. It behooves us to ensure Fort Myers Beach is turtle-friendly because keeping them safe is essential to our long-term survival. Finally, I cannot do this alone! Turtle Time has over 100 dedicated volunteers, and I cannot say enough about them.” If you want to assist in 2017, Turtle Time training sessions begin early next April.
To volunteer or obtain more information, contact Turtle Time Inc., at 239-481-5566 or www.turtletime.org. For lighting information call the Town of Fort Myers Beach at 239-765-0202, extension 1702, and for Wildlife Friendly Fixtures see bit.ly/FWCturtlelites. Join the movement to protect our nesting sea turtles today!