Record Season for Sea Turtles!

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As the holiday season is upon us, we are now over a month past the end of another season that many of our seasonal residents may never see – Turtle Nesting Season, which came to a close on Halloween. When we spoke to Turtle Time Director Eve Haverfield this week, she told us that not only did we have a record number of nests this year, there may come a time when snowbirds and turtles may mix – as the state of Florida is considering extending the beginning and ending dates due to climate change.

“Turtle season normally begins on May 1st, but we had the first documented nest in Lee County this year on April 23rd,” she said. “Our volunteers are planning to start patrolling earlier next year. I would suspect that in the future the season will be extending as it gets warmer earlier in the year and stays warmer for longer.”

Eve told us that this year’s total of 73 nests on Fort Myers Beach set a record.

“We are very so happy about that!” she said. “The last time we came close to that was in 2012, when we had 65. Last year we had 46, which were up from 44 in 2013. It appears this upward trend is continuing – in 2008, there were only 8 nests here.”

Haverfield explained that turtles tend to nest in cycles, with the same groups coming every other year, so the trend likely represents new recruits maturing to reproductive age – a likely payoff from years of conservation efforts.

“Sea turtles are fickle – they are literally the canaries of the ocean,” she said. “From 2002-2011 we saw a drastic decline in loggerhead nests from Georgia to Florida. Now we’re seeing turtles we helped usher into the ocean in 1989 come back to nest.”

Not all the baby hatchlings made it to the Gulf, however.

“That part isn’t so terrific,” Eve said. “Out of 7,000 eggs, only 2,845 baby turtles made it to the water. Part of that is because we had so much rain this summer that it saturated the ground, plus we had three nests go awry because people were careless with their lights. All people have to do is switch out their outside lights for amber LED’s, which provide plenty of light but are turtle friendly. It’s simple.”

Haverfield told us that amber LED’s also save money on power bills, are more aesthetically pleasing, attract fewer bugs than traditional fluorescent bulbs and are actually safer. “With fluorescent lights, the only thing that is illuminated is you and all your stuff,” Eve said. “Someone could be prowling around outside and you’d never see them. “We keep trying to get folks to use Amber LED lights instead because the turtles can’t see them, plus they last forever and don’t cause night blindness in people.”

Here on Fort Myers Beach, it is against the law to have outside lights on the beach at night during turtle season because artificial lights will confuse hatchlings and cause them to wander inland, where they become lost and disoriented and quickly die from dehydration, heat exhaustion or by being crushed by cars.

So why are sea turtles so important?

“Sea turtles are the caretakers of healthy oceans,” Eve told us. “They play a crucial role. Loggerhead turtles bulldoze the sand at the bottom of the ocean, loosening it up so fish can lay their eggs there and hide. Green turtles are the ‘farmer’ turtles -they keep the turtle grass healthy, which serves as a nursery to baby fish. Leatherback turtles eat jellyfish, which eat fish eggs. There is actually an area in the Mediterranean where there are no leatherbacks, and fish populations there have collapsed because all the fishermen catch are jellyfish. See the pattern? If you want fish, you need turtles.”

Haverfield told us that prices for amber lights have come down, and provided us with a website where people can order them: www.seaturtlelighting.net. For an example of what the lights look like, check out the parking lot next to Royal Scoop on the corner of Mango and Estero Boulevard, or the Red Coconut RV Resort, which Eve told us converted to turtle-friendly lighting this summer.

Eve expressed her gratitude to all the homeowners who do switch their lights in the summer. All information and local regulations regarding sea turtles is available on the Town’s website at www.fortmyersbeach.fl.gov. Type ‘sea turtle lighting’ into the search bar.

Keri Hendry Weeg