Record Season Continues
“The 2019 Fort Myers Beach Nesting Sea Turtle Season is one for the record books!” raved Eve Haverfield, founder of Turtle Time Inc., the non-profit established in 1989 to benefit nesting marine turtles on Big Hickory Island as well as Bonita, Bunche and Fort Myers Beaches. “We thought our 30-year celebration reached its peak on July 14 when we documented the 100th Loggerhead Turtle nest on Fort Myers Beach, the first time Estero Island attained that mark, but then we found our first-ever documented Green Turtle Nest on the island, so this year just keeps getting better and better!”
Upon learning about the Green nest on southern Fort Myers Beach, “I was completely surprised,” Eve continued. “By then, we already had nine Green nests on Bonita Beach, so I had my fingers crossed for Fort Myers Beach, but it was still a pleasant shock. One of our volunteers, Jennie Worden, telephoned in her report and said there was something different about this crawl, as it was a huge track; much bigger than Loggerheads that traditionally nest on Estero Island, so when we checked it out, sure enough, it was a Green. Another tipoff is Greens use a lot of sand to cover their nests and there was a nearby pit in the beach deep enough for a person to fall into, so that was another telltale sign.”
Greens Versus Loggerheads
Greens are herbivorous and get their name from the green tone of their body fat, with that color linked to their vegetarian diet of seagrasses, though they only bite off the tips, to keep the rest of the grass healthy. Their main domains are the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, with their primary Atlantic nesting sites being in the Caribbean, though they can choose spots in the United States in Georgia, the Carolinas, and usually the east coast of Florida. Their average length is 5 feet, with their weight nearly 400 pounds, making them the largest nesting sea turtles. They live up to 80 years old and reach mating age between 20 to 50. Once they lay nests, clutches range from 85 to 200 eggs, with females nesting 3 to 5 times a season.
Loggerheads on the other hand are omnivorous, feeding mainly on bottom-dwelling invertebrates, with their skin tone yellow to brown. They live in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans as well and are prevalent along both Florida coasts as well as Georgia and the Carolinas. Loggerheads weigh on average slightly less than 300 pounds, with a lifespan of 47 to 67 years old. They reach mating maturity between 28 and 33 years old, and nest every other season, with 4 to 7 nests per year and up to 125 eggs in each.
Eve believes the Green nest at southern Fort Myers Beach was not by chance or accident. “It was on an elevated portion of the beach, much more so than the mid-island area flattened by years of raking and scraping. Green nests are much deeper than Loggerheads, so the mother found a high ridge, though it was close to the hightide line. When we excavated the nest after its August 11 hatching, we did not find any liquid at the bottom, and none of the eggs seemed to be under the water table, so she chose a relatively healthy spot. There were 80 total eggs and 38 hatched, so almost 50%; it was great to see those little hatchling tracks marching off into the Gulf!”
More Green Nests Possible
“It is possible we may have more Green Nests here, perhaps even this season,” Eve opined. “Greens nest later than Loggerheads, often into September, so we will be on the lookout.” With just ten weeks left in the turtle nesting season that concludes on October 31, “we now transition from nest laying to nest hatching. The last Fort Myers Beach nest we documented was July 29, so nest laying came to a sudden halt.”
With hatching now the primary activity, Eve implores beachfront residents and businesses to install Amber LED lights. “It is non-turtle friendly lighting more than anything that dooms hatchlings.” Hatchlings will go toward light, which should be the moon reflected on the Gulf, not artificial light. Close your drapes! Use Amber LED lights. Turtles can’t see that wavelength, but people can. Not just any Amber light will work, it MUST be Amber LED.
Amber LED lightbulbs from Town Hall cost $8.50; via cash, check or credit card, or order Wildlife Friendly Fixtures directly from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at www.myFWC.com.
Eve asks people “to not walk the beach at night with your cellphone flashlights on, and never shine lights on any hatchlings or take flash photographs of them, as even those lights throw them off. This weekend is the first few nights following the August Full Moon, so walk our beautiful beaches while enjoying that! Remember to store beach furnishings behind dune lines and fill in any holes you dig into the beach. Some of these holes are gigantic, meaning they can not only trap hatchlings but a full-size 300-pound turtle, and a person could easily break a leg if they fall into one.”
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, or the FWC Hotline at
By Gary Mooney