Record Breaking Turtle Nesting Season

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Big Numbers for Turtle Time

Fort Myers Beach broke its sea turtle nesting seasonal record on Sunday, July 14, when Turtle Time, Inc., documented Estero Island’s 100th nest, breaking its previous mark of 99 from 2017! This achievement is a wonderful way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Turtle Time, a non-profit established in 1989 by Eve Haverfield to benefit nesting marine turtles on Big Hickory Island as well as Bonita, Bunche, and Fort Myers Beaches.

“And we are not done yet,” enthused Eve! “We are now up to 110 nests on Fort Myers Beach, with 20 of those having already hatched. Our success is not limited to Fort Myers Beach, however, as we also shattered the previous Bonita Beach mark of 207 nests from 2017, with 233 so far. When you add the 16 from Big Hickory Island and one from Bunche Beach, our total of 360 easily outpaces the 2017 former record of 327!”

In another piece of good Turtle Time news, Fort Myers Beach is traditionally home to only Loggerhead nests, but this year it has a rare Green Turtle nest as well! “We are not sure why this happened,” admitted Eve, “other than there appears to be more Green Turtles in our area waters than ever. There are 8 Green Turtle nests on Bonita Beach as well, and I understand that Sanibel Island is reporting 29 more.”

Eve hoped 2019 would be a record-breaking year for Fort Myers Beach in particular and Turtle Time’s four reporting regions in general. “Loggerheads nest every other year, so the 2017 records gave us great hope for this year, but this is turning out to be fantastic, not only here and throughout Florida but along the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas, as records are falling everywhere. While indications were that 2019 might hold the possibility to establish records, we could not be sure, especially after the Red Tide and Blue-Green Algae issues from 2018, so we crossed our fingers there would be no repercussions from those environmental disasters.”

30 Years of Progress

Thirty years ago, Eve and her volunteers documented just 5 Fort Myers Beach nests, but the improvement to this year’s 110 and counting has not been a linear progression. “While we showed consistent improvements over the first decade, there were significant dips over the next 10 years. For instance, Bonita Beach in 2005 had just 22 nests, Fort Myers Beach in 2007 only 8 nests, and in 2002, our four nesting areas totaled a combined 18!”

Those figures led Eve to question if the preservation concepts were working, “but we reminded ourselves that most efforts to benefit nesting sea turtles began in the 1970s and 1980s, and the turtles do not reach nesting age until they are 30 to 50 years old, so we needed patience that the positive results we wanted were yet to come. We always preach that nesting sea turtles are the caretakers of the ocean, so what is good for them is good for us as people, so by protecting them, we are also protecting ourselves.”

With Fort Myers Beach nests starting to hatch, Eve believes that Estero Island is now past its peak for new ones, though she reminds that “we still have plenty of season left, as it lasts through October 31. We discovered the 110th nest on the morning of July 29 and expect to add to that total throughout August. In fact, it is not completely unheard of to have new nests into September. The latest that we ever documented one was September 3 and that did not hatch until after the official end of the season, on November 7. The reason that date sticks in my mind is when the nest hatched, it was very cold that day and we were all bundled up, so the hatchlings had their turtle necks while we wore turtleneck sweaters to stay warm!”

Good News, Bad News

Not all the Fort Myers Beach turtle news this year is good, however. “We have had disorientation incidents at 6 FMB nests so far this season,” Eve related, “from light incursions and other situations. One property owner reconfigured their yard so that when it rains, it forms a pond that unfortunately attracts the hatchlings to that artificial water source and away from the Gulf of Mexico that is their natural destination for survival. The bottom line is that Fort Myers Beach residents have such beautiful beachfront properties, with dunes to function property, that they should enjoy them in a natural way that is good for both people and turtles. To give you an idea of how bad this disorientation number is, Collier County this year has over 1,000 turtle nests and only two reported disorientations.”

The principle reason for turtle disorientations remains lights that draw hatchlings away from the Gulf toward those sources and their likely demise. “What makes this especially frustrating is there is such a simple solution,” stressed Eve: “Shift from standard to Amber LED lights. The Environmental Protection Agency recently stated that in five years, LED lights will be the main light bulb people we will use for everything. Their price comes down every year and they last so much longer than standard bulbs that I don’t understand why everyone has not already made the switch. On top of everything else, the Town of Fort Myers Beach now sells them at cost at Town Hall, so what could be easier? They actually give off a wonderful glow, are cheaper in the long run, and are good for turtles and hatchings, so what is not to like?”

Despite the success of the conservation efforts over the last three decades, people still have a long way to go to make our beaches completely turtle friendly, Eve reminded. “The ultimate goal remains dark beaches, but with so many people now living on the coast, that is most likely not attainable, so the next best thing is to get everyone to employ turtle-friendly Amber LED lighting that is safe for humans but which turtles cannot see due to its wavelength. When you live on the beach, the light you should long to see is moonlight; if you want to experience millions of artificial lights, move to New York City and enjoy the bright lights of that other Times Square!”

In addition to Amber LED lights, 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, leading to a possible catastrophe. Store beach furnishings behind dune lines, so Mother Turtles do not get tangled up in and drag them back into the Gulf for a possible drowning. Please fill in any holes you may dig into the beach during the day each evening. You would not believe how big some of these holes are, to the point that they can not only trap the hatchings but a full-size 300-pound Loggerhead. These gigantic holes are unsafe for people as well, as you can easily break a leg if you happen upon one at night. Close your drapes and blinds each evening, as I am not sure why people would even want to keep those open when the sun goes down, as that makes it very easy for others to look right inside your home, so protect your privacy and safety as well that of the turtles.”

Secret To Our Success

So what is the secret to Turtle Time’s 30-year success story? “Without a doubt, our volunteers,” raved Eve! “They are just awesome; they not only love nature but are a good-natured group! And what is there not to love? You are out walking the beach, watching the sunrise and listening to the birds chirp while looking for turtle tracks in the sand – it is like participating in an adult ‘Treasure Hunt!’ Many of our volunteers are now with us for 20 or more years, so I cannot say enough about them, and we encourage you to join us next year.”

To add to Turtle Time’s preservation efforts, the Town of Fort Myers Beach implemented two new programs this year to protect nesting sea turtles. You can purchase Amber LED turtle-friendly lights directly at Town Hall, and Rae Burns, the Town’s Environmental Coordinator, will conduct a free lighting inspection of your home or business. “Each bulb costs $8.50; the same price we pay,” said Rae. “Purchase them via cash, check or credit card, or you can order Wildlife Friendly Fixtures directly from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at www.myFWC.com. To schedule a turtle lighting inspection that begins after sunset, email me directly at rae@fmbgov.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 at 239-765-4222.

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news