First Nest; First Nightmare
“We found our first turtle nest on Fort Myers Beach on Thursday, May 11,” says Eve Haverfield, founder of Turtle Time, Inc., the all-volunteer, non-profit group that monitors nesting of the globally-endangered sea turtles on Big Hickory Island as well as Bonita, Bunche and Fort Myers Beaches since 1989. “Unfortunately, the nest was right in the section of the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area that is about to undergo beach renourishment, so we had to relocate it to a safe sector. It is a good-sized nest with quite a few eggs!”
People who see that or any posted nest will note two signs, Eve explains. “We do a good job of presenting information to the public. The one is very official, notifying you that sea turtles are protected under the Florida Marine Turtle Act, punishable by law. The second, blue one provides helpful information and tips for the public to help turtles. We hope eventually our education reaches the point that when the calendar turns to April 15 every Spring, people automatically shift into compliance mode, knowing it is time to share the beach with this endangered species that is extremely beneficial to our own existence.”
Monday, May 15, should have been joyous for Turtle Time, as volunteers located the next two nests on Fort Myers Beach, with the first of the season on Big Hickory Island, joining the six already on Bonita Beach. “Sadly, on Fort Myers Beach,” Eve explains, “between Sterling Avenue and the Wyndham Garden, we came across a horrible scene. You could tell from the tracks that after the turtle nested and tried to make her way back into the water, a person along with their dog interfered, making her crawl all over the beach for probably an hour before she was finally able to return to her original entry point. This is not only illegal, but disgusting. Sea turtles are buoyant in the Gulf but must work hard against gravity on land, placing great stress on their heart and lungs. This is arduous right after digging a two-foot nest, laying eggs, and covering them up, so we were not happy with this discovery. That is a horrible way to treat that poor turtle; it is either downright mean or completely ignorant.”
On a positive note, 2017 may very well turn out to be a generational year for Turtle Time! “We have now been around long enough that some of our original hatchings may return here to lay their eggs, as it usually takes 30 to 50 year to reach maturity, but some turtles do so a few years early, so 28 years on Fort Myers Beach might just do it!”
Nesting turtles will travel thousands of miles, from their feeding grounds back to the beach of their birth. Loggerheads, the only sea turtle species to use Fort Myers Beach to date, will 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 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 demise.
Turtle Time encourages beach residences to use LED amber lights that do not affect turtles. If you cannot, then turn off or shield all balcony and outside lights, close drapes and blinds after dark, and never shine a flashlight or use flash photography on a sea turtle. Remove all beach furniture, boats, tents, toys or like items from the beach by 9 p.m., and fill in holes dug in the sand that can trap hatchlings and adults.
“Last year Turtle Time reported a record-setting 270 nests,” says Eve, “easily exceeding the prior mark of 203 in 2012. Fort Myers Beach’s 92 bested the previous high of 73 from 2015, and Bonita Beach had 160, shattering its 2012 high. The 92 Fort Myers Beach nests produced 8,322 eggs, with 4,453 living hatchlings. While that sounds incredible, perhaps only 4 or 5 grow into adulthood, putting the odds against them at 1,000 to one.”
Eve thanked everyone on Fort Myers Beach for their help. “People appreciate that turtles nest here; we have over 100 great volunteers and I cannot say enough about them. We always accept new volunteers; if you have the passion to invest your time to benefit the sea turtles, we welcome you.”
To volunteer or report a disoriented, lost, injured or dead hatchling or turtle, contact Turtle Time at 239-481-5566 or www.turtletime.org. For LED lighting information call the Town of Fort Myers Beach at 239-765-0202, and for Wildlife Friendly Fixtures see www.accessfixtures.com.
Photos by Eve Haverfield, Turtle Time