“We are so excited about the upcoming 2017 turtle season, as 2016 was absolutely the most productive since we began monitoring in 1989,” enthusiastically reported Eve Haverfield, the founder of Turtle Time, Inc., a non-profit established for the benefit of marine turtles on Big Hickory Island as well as Bonita, Bunche, and Fort Myers Beaches. “Last year we reported a record-setting 270 nests, easily exceeded the prior mark of 203 set in 2012. Fort Myers Beach’s 92 bested the previous high of 73 from 2015. Bonita Beach had 160, shattering its 2012 high of 122, with 16 on Big Hickory Island and 2 on Bunche Beach.”
The 92 Fort Myers Beach 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 has 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. It is humbling to look back at our first year when we had 5 Fort Myers Beach nests – that is remarkable!”
Since Loggerheads, the only turtle species so far found on Fort Myers Beach, nest every other year, and their numbers were so large in 2015, “we hope that upward trend continues in 2017,” Eve explains. “It is so exciting to start a new season, as we face so many unknowns, like who will find the first nest, and when and where.”
Turtles Don’t Know the Calendar!
While turtle season officially is May 1 to October 31, Eve states that “turtles don’t know the calendar! Last year we had our first nest on April 24, and in other seasons as early as April 20 on Fort Myers Beach, and we are not alone. As such, the State of Florida this year for the first time mandates that groups like ours must now look for sea turtle tracks beginning on April 15, as warmer Gulf temperatures cause turtles to nest earlier; Mother Nature sets her own parameters! Should you spot one earlier than that, call us and we will be out as soon as possible.”
May 1 remains the date State law requires removing furniture and things like lights off at night, to make beaches safe for turtles. “We ask the businesses to look for early nests, before they start their raking and putting out their chairs and equipment. That is why we do our monitoring early in the morning, because we need to do this before beach businesses open. In fact, they legally cannot do those things until we monitor the zones; by law they have to wait for us.”
Eve explained, “We are witnessing a gradual increase in Loggerheads 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.”
Have a Little Class
If you wish to be a Turtle Time volunteer, Eve will offer a class for new volunteers on Saturday, April 8, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., with reservations required at 239-481-5566, when you will learn the location. “You learn to identify turtle tracks and nests,” she explained, “and gain an insight to the background of sea turtles and their function to the environment. You can’t beat walking the beach early in the morning, enjoying the birds and sunrise, so join this global effort to save these migratory animals; I wouldn’t be doing since 1989 if it were not as fun as it is important,” she says with a great laugh! “Morning beach walks are not only good for the turtles, but good mentally and physically for us; we always maintain what is good for sea turtles is good for people! Everybody loves doing it and most of our volunteers been have been with us for years, but we do have open zones, especially on Fort Myers Beach.”
New volunteers learn turtle tracking protocol, like how to mark a nest and who to call, “so this is done in a concerted effort,” says Eve. “We conduct measurements and list GPS coordinates of every crawl, and that information goes to State, then ultimately to the US Fish and Wildlife Service that oversees endangered species. We manage the reporting process closely, because we are responsible for our four beaches.” Turtle Time pairs new volunteers with established members, to experience the first tracks of an actual crawling. “It is one thing to look at them in a photograph,” she explains, “but quite another to see it yourself, so we make sure they feel secure and are not worried about missing something. As the season progresses, eventually you are on your own.”
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 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.
Amber Lights Save Turtles
As such, Eve encourages beach residences to use LED amber lights that do not affect turtles. “These lower energy bills by as much as 70%, while providing significant security for safety. Amber has a different wavelength, provides plenty of light, are actually quite pretty, and the price falls every year. If you see turtles at night, please don’t use any flashlights or flash photography, as I don’t like scraping dead hatchings off the road each morning; not only is that very, very, very depressing, but it makes me angry!”
She implores visitors to fill in any holes they or their children dig before they leave the beach: “Not only can people hurt themselves, but hatchlings fall in and are too small to crawl out so they die, and sadly this is becoming kind of an epidemic.”
Eve thanks everyone on Fort Myers Beach for their help. “People appreciate that turtles nest here. Most are very mindful, much more so than when we first began in 1989, and share the beach responsibly with our endangered sea turtles. We are dependent on people being responsible, as we rely on them to protect our environmental and endangered species, as turtles need a safe beach for their very survival. Finally, I cannot do this alone! Turtle Time has over 100 dedicated volunteers, and I cannot say enough about them.”
To obtain more information or register for the April 8 new volunteer class, contact Turtle Time Inc., 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. Join the movement to protect our nesting sea turtles today!