New Turtle Nesting Record

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First 2020 FMB Hatch This Week

The 2020 Fort Myers Beach Sea Turtle Nesting Season began with a bang, and now, almost improbably, set its sixth total nesting record in the past seven years! On top of that, the first Fort Myers Beach turtle nest hatched on Friday, July 3.

“We actually have two Fort Myers Beach nests that have now hatched,” explained Eve Haverfield, who founded the non-profit Turtle Time, Inc., in 1989 to benefit marine turtles on Big Hickory Island as well as Bonita, Bunche, and Fort Myers Beaches. “Judging by the hatchling tracks, it looks like those nests did really well. Perhaps even more exciting is that we now have 113 sea turtle nests on Fort Myers Beach, or one more than last year’s record of 112! Almost all the turtles on Fort Myers Beach are Loggerheads that tend to nest every other season, so we estimated this year’s number of nests from 2018, when we had just 68 nests, so 113 and counting is a surprise! When we set the record last year with 112, that was not totally unexpected because in 2017 we had 99.”

Record Start

Turtle-hatchlings-on-fort-myers-beach
Eve Haverfield retrieves with a newly hatched turtle. Photos courtesy of Turtle

While sea turtle nesting season is officially May 1 through October 31 in Southwest Florida, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) requested that Turtle Time begin its monitoring on April 15 due to climate changes. On April 30, Turtle Time found a record-setting five Loggerhead nests on the island. “Five in one day – especially before the actual start of nesting season – is incredulous and absolutely thrilling,” Eve recalled. “I have been monitoring our beaches for 30 years now and on Sanibel for 10 years before that, and never had a day like that, especially before May 1! Four of those nests have yet to hatch, and that is a little longer than we would initially estimate, but May had record rainfall and Tropical Storm Cristobal gave us a close call in early June, so the Gulf water washed over those and many other nests several times. On top of that, because of Fort Myers Beach raking practices, sometimes the sand can resemble concrete and delay the development and hatching of the nests.”

In addition to record nesting numbers last year, Fort Myers Beach made another bit of history in 2019 with its first-ever documented Green Turtle nest, “but this year, we are still waiting,” said Eve. “Sanibel already has a couple as well as six Leatherback nests, so we have not given up hope, as Green turtles nest later than Loggerheads, well into September. The folks on Sanibel have a tracker attached to one Green that nested several times already this year, and from the data, we know she is all around our waters, so I hope she will stop here!”

Amber LED Lighting

The primary bane to nesting turtles and their hatchlings is artificial light from beach properties. Turtles for millennia had quiet dark beaches to themselves, but now compete with businesses and coastal residents. These lights can prevent females from coming ashore or choosing an inferior nesting location from which few hatchlings survive. Lights also disorient hatchlings, causing them to move toward that light source and away from the Gulf, resulting in death from dehydration, exhaustion or automobiles.

She asks Fort Myers Beach residents to take proactive actions to protect turtles and hatchlings. “If you rent your place, please switch to Amber LED lights so when your renters turn them on, they are already turtle-friendly. You can buy such wonderful Amber LED lights these days that are energy efficient, more inexpensive every year, completely safe for turtles, and provide plenty of bright light for humans and your property! This is such a win-win that I no longer understand why this is an issue anymore. Sadly, we had 15 total disorientations last year and unfortunately 13 were on Fort Myers Beach.”

As there are just two Fort Myers Beach nest hatchings so far in 2020, there have yet to be any disorientations. “Chadd Chustz of the Town of Fort Myers Beach is working hard to apprise everyone of the rules and regulations, and my understanding is that the Town will not beg people to come into compliance, but will issue citations and fines. I know the former Town Council debated whether Estero Boulevard should have bright white lights or turtle friendly ones, and I hope that this Council makes the correct choice. Bright lights are not always the best, as they can blind many senior drivers, especially in wet conditions. Estero Boulevard is not an interstate or big city thoroughfare but a coastal road that should be environmentally sensitive.”

In addition to using Amber LED lighting, protect turtles by closing drapes or blinds after dark, never shine a flashlight or use flash photography on sea turtles, move boats or beach furniture behind beach vegetation each night, keep dogs on a leash, and fill in any holes you dig into the sand as hatchlings and adult turtles can fall in and die.

Fill in Beach Holes

This season Eve has noticed huge holes on Fort Myers Beach. “In God’s name, I don’t know what is going on,” she said with exasperation! “People are not just digging holes, but basements including – and I am not lying here – stairs, then not filling these in. Hatchlings have no chance in getting out of these, and it will take a 300-pound Loggerhead great stress and perhaps human help to do so. If you build one of these bunkers, please fill it back in before you leave, as these are unsafe for man and beast; not only for turtles but men, women, children and especially seniors!”

Eve implores beachgoers, “If you encounter a sea turtle, please do not interfere with them! Now that things are reopening and there are more people on the beach, we can tell folks are taunting the turtles. When the coronavirus shut the beach, you could see from their tracks that turtles came straight onshore, laid their nests and went straight back into the Gulf, but now they often must zig-zag a long way to reenter the Gulf, because humans prevent them from doing so. While sea turtles are light and graceful in the water, on land, weighing over 300 pounds and fighting gravity, it is a strain for them, so be considerate of these protected animals.”

Turtle friendly light fixtures and bulbs can be found at bit.ly/lites4turtles  If you accidentally hook a turtle or find one in distress contact the FWC hotline at 888-404-3922, *FWC, #FWC or text Tip@MyFWC.com or contact Turtle Time at 239-481-5566 or www.turtletime.org

So why are we setting new nesting sea turtle records almost every season? “While there are many factors,” Eve opined, “remember it takes Loggerheads 30 to 50 years to reach breeding maturity and we started Turtle Time 30 years ago, with other Florida communities even before that. I truly believe today we are seeing those long-term efforts paying off!” As for why Fort Myers Beach this season is going practically nest for nest with Bonita Beach that usually has twice the number, “we don’t know,” Eve exclaimed with a hearty laugh! “My guess is that because turtles return to nest at their natal beach, with more Loggerheads now hatching over the years on Fort Myers Beach, the numbers between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach are more equal.”

Eve noted, “We have come a long way on Fort Myers Beach since we first started Turtle Time in 1989, when we discovered 5 total nests all season long, and this year we found five even before the official start of season! Back in those early days, Fort Myers Beach was full of cabanas and beach furniture, with turtles constantly entangled in those, so we have made a big improvement. I am very proud of the Fort Myers Beach community, as now monitoring the beach is a whole lot more fun!”

Finally, Eve passed along a huge “Thank You!” to The Island Sand Paper. “Your nonstop coverage benefitted nesting sea turtles on Fort Myers Beach, with terrific information for residents and guests on how to best protect the turtles, so a big chunk of the credit for these record numbers belongs to you! Thank you so much, and I know I speak for many people on Fort Myers Beach when I say you will be missed!”