“This was a ‘Holy Moley’ year,” raved Eve Haverfield, who established the non-profit “Turtle Time, Inc.,” in 1989 to benefit nesting marine turtles on Big Hickory Island as well as Bonita, Bunche and Fort Myers Beaches. “We not only enjoyed a wonderful turtle nesting season, we had a record-breaking one!”
Turtle Time set new nesting numbers on Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach, as well as a record cumulative total for its four nesting areas. “The previous Fort Myers Beach mark was from 2017 with 99 nests,” Eve offered, “and this year we had 112. Our volunteers were overjoyed on July 14 when we passed 100 for the first time. Bonita Beach’s former high was from 2017 with 206 and this year we had 238. All-together, our previous total record was from 2017 with 327 and this year we had 367 nests. That included 16 from Big Hickory Island and our signature one from Bunche Beach that we tend to find every two or three years. Those are incredible numbers!”
Not Easy Being Green
Up to this season, Fort Myers Beach was the exclusive domain of Loggerhead turtles, but Turtle Time discovered a Green turtle nest on our shore for the first time! “This was so exciting,” recalled Eve. “Turtle Time has checked Fort Myers Beach since 1989 and I did turtle monitoring on Sanibel for 10 years prior that, so I knew what was going on in Fort Myers Beach, and there were none that entire time.”
Turtle Time found the Green nest on the south end of Estero Island and, because they are so much larger than Loggerheads, it was inordinately huge and deep – “like the size of someone’s kitchen,” Eve enthused! “Our volunteers never saw a Green nest before so that was a thrill. It had 80 eggs, with 38 successfully hatching and the other 42 being undeveloped, but that is not unusual, particularly if the Mother is young. We found another 10 Green nests on Bonita Beach, where we only had one previous report from 2013, so that total of 11 is wonderful! Greens nest every two to three seasons so there may be a lull next year but we hope they continue to surprise us and return to our shores again, as statewide, their nesting numbers are extremely good.”
Eve attributed the record numbers to several reasons: “Loggerheads tend to return to the beach of their birth to nest every other year, so the fact that our previous mark was two years ago made us optimistic for 2019. On top of that, we had no major storms, flooding events or hurricanes, and our water quality was much better this year than in 2018. Overall, Turtle Time volunteers counted 35,902 eggs that equated to roughly 28,000 hatchlings for a success rate of 81% and that is outstanding. Remember though, that for every hatchling that makes it to the water, only 1 to 4 out of every 1,000 will reach adulthood. When we tell people 28,000 their reaction is ‘Wow,’ but that equates to somewhere between 28 to 112 eventual adults.”
With turtle nesting season officially over on October 31, Turtle Time is done monitoring for 2019 and will not resume again until April 15, though Eve noted that “we already have people contacting us on how to volunteer next year!”
Bad News Cruise
She reminded, however, that with good comes bad. “The principle reason for turtle disorientations remains light that draws hatchlings away from the Gulf toward that source and their likely demise. Unfortunately, we had 15 total disorientations and sadly 13 of those occurred on Fort Myers Beach, with just two minor ones on Bonita Beach, with one of those a lighting issue the business has since corrected. I am optimistic for improvement on Fort Myers Beach next year, as they have a new Code Enforcement person who started right at the end of this season and was really effective, so I look forward to working with them in 2020. I do have a major concern with the Town, however, as they are incorporating new streetlights into the Estero Boulevard project and they are not all turtle-friendly, as well as being a threat to moths and migratory birds, so I hope Town leadership explores other options.”
The worst Fort Myers Beach disorientation this season occurred near Sterling Avenue with the installation of a new street light, Eve reported. “No one expects anyone to sacrifice personal safety for the benefit of sea turtles, but there are lighting options approved by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) that are a technological boon. An extremely bright light is not only bad for turtles but can be for people as well, as during summer rains, that bright a light can reflect off the wet roadway and cause a glare that can blind drivers and be a danger, so I hope the Town will work with a lighting designer who understands our concern. We welcome the Town contacting either the FWC or Turtle Time for our input on this crucial issue, as it is incumbent for a coastal community to ensure that its lighting follows proper guidelines consistent with turtle protection, so we hope common sense prevails. Remember that you can see Fort Myers Beach lights on Bonita Beach and Sanibel beaches so it can affect nesting sea turtles on those places as well.”
Another recent negative is that since October 5, Turtle Time found 20 dead adult sea turtles on its area beaches due to the recent Red Tide outbreak.
To purchase Wildlife Friendly Fixtures directly from the FWC, go to www.myFWC.com. If you accidently hook or catch a sea turtle, or find one in distress or dead, immediately contact Turtle Time at 239-481-5566 or www.turtletime.org, the FWC Hotline at 888-404-3922, or the Town of Fort Myers Beach at 239-765-4222. If you want to volunteer with Turtle Time in 2020, use their above information.
“I hope 2020 is another great year,” Eve prognosticated! “No bad storms; good water quality, no light disorientations, more turtle nests, and many happy people on the beach! Over the past three decades, we discovered that residents and visitors alike take great pride and joy that Fort Myers Beach for the most part is a safe haven for nesting sea turtles and that they are happy our community is part of the world-wide effort to save these species that is so important to the Earth’s oceans as well as to people.”
Eve jested, “I have been doing this now on Fort Myers Beach for 30 years, and overall for 40 years, and that amazes me, as I am only 39-years-old! I offer my sincere thanks not only to our terrific Turtle Time volunteers but the beach businesses and community at large who are so supportive to help us accomplish our mission to save these magnificent endangered creatures, along with homeowners and renters who employ turtle-friendly measures and distribute relevant information. It is heartwarming that most people care and do the things necessary, so let’s all have a bigger and better 2020 season, as ‘Cautious Optimism’ is always my motto!”