While some sponsors of local nature programs take a summer break, Lovers Key State Park, just off the island’s southern tip, continues its family events on a year-round basis.
Roughly a dozen people, half being children, attended their “Nesting Sea Turtle Talk” at the Kayak Launch Shelter recently, conducted by volunteer Natasha Rousseau. “There are many sea turtle nests on the Lovers Key State Park beach right now,” she explained, “and that is pretty exciting! We have had many more incidences we call ‘false crawls,’ where the female turtle came ashore but chose not to lay any eggs, and that can occur for a number of reasons. We trace the ancestry of nesting sea turtles back to over 100 million years ago, yet despite the passage of all that time, they have not really changed all that much.”
Natasha told the group. “Sea turtles spend most of their life in the water. Once they hatch and successfully crawl to the ocean, males will never again come on land, and females only will to lay their eggs, always returning to the beach of their own birth. For those who reach adulthood, their average lifespan is roughly 67 years, and they do not reach maturity to reproduce until they are between 20 to 30 years old. The female can lay up to 120 eggs each time, with as many as 7 clutches (nests) a season, though they nest only every other year. She will dig the nest, lay her eggs, cover it back up with sand, then head back into the water. It takes the eggs roughly 60 days to hatch, with the heat of the sand and surrounding nest determining the sex of the hatchings – the warmer it is – more females; the cooler – more males.”
Despite passing the bulk of their life in the water, sea turtles are oxygen breathers, just like people. “They spend as much as four hours at a time under water,” Natasha related, “but surface to breathe for 15 to 30 minutes at a time. While there are 7 nesting sea turtle species in the world, with five of those found in Florida, the one almost exclusively on Fort Myers Beach is the Loggerhead that can be over 3 feet long and weigh more than 400 pounds. They eat many things, from clams and crabs to fish and even algae, but they are mostly carnivorous, as their big and powerful jaws can break through just about anything. People find Loggerheads all over the world, yet Florida is the #1 place where they nest, so that is pretty special and amazing!”
Natasha employed a friendly conversational style during her 30-minute program, the perfect length for the younger attendees who remained attentive and asked smart questions, before journeying to the beach to see the turtle nests from a safe distance.
The park will host another free Sea Turtle program on Friday, August 9 at 10 a.m. Reservations are required by calling 239-463-4588.
Lovers Key State Park, at 8700 Estero Boulevard, offers nature walks and programs free with park admission year-round at 10 a.m. Reservations are necessary to hold your place. For information on upcoming events, call 239-463-4588 or see www.floridastateparks.org/loverskey.
In addition to Lovers Key State Park, the Town of Fort Myers Beach hosts a free “Guided Beach Walk” at Newton Beach Park at 4650 Estero Boulevard every Tuesday year-round, weather permitting, at 9 a.m. No reservations necessary; call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.
Protect Nesting Sea Turtles
Nesting Sea Turtle Season is officially from May 1 through October 31, though Eve Haverfield, founder of Turtle Time, Inc., a non-profit established in 1989 to benefit nesting marine turtles on Big Hickory Island and Bonita, Bunche and Fort Myers Beaches, explained, “Our volunteers begin patrolling our local beaches on April 15, per the recommendation from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).”
The primary bane to nesting turtles and their hatchlings is artificial light shining from beach properties on and near the beach. 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 disorient hatchlings, causing them to move toward that light source and away from the Gulf, resulting in death from dehydration, exhaustion or automobiles. Fort Myers Beach property owners who violate these regulations are subject to citations by the Town Code Enforcement Division, including an appearance before the Town Special Magistrate for potential fines and administrative fees until they take measures to correct the situation.
Eve’s best recommendation to local residents and businesses is, “Please switch to Amber LED lights, as these are turtle-friendly! I know Amber LED lights are still a little more expensive, but they last for such a long time that in the end they are actually cheaper to use. They provide plenty of light for your safety and property, because we would never ask you to risk your personal safety to benefit turtles! I am very grateful that the vast majority of Fort Myers Beach residents and businesses take this seriously and responsibly, as Amber LED lights are a win-win for turtles and humans.”
In addition to Amber LED lighting, close drapes and 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 in the sand as hatchlings and adult turtles can fall in and die. “It is important we as humans take care of the nesting sea turtles,” Eve emphasized, “as they are the caretakers of the ocean. When you see them floating dead, you know there is a problem, as healthy sea turtles equate to healthy people. As an aside, I want to congratulate the Town for its on-site turtle lighting inspection program as well as now having turtle-friendly lights on sale for the general public at Town Hall.”
Light Bulbs & Free Inspections
“We sell PAR20 bulbs,” said Rae Burns, the Town’s Environmental Coordinator. “The FWC approves these and, perhaps most importantly, so does Eve! These are Amber in color, with a wavelength turtles do not see, and they fit into most standard lighting fixtures. Each bulb costs $8.50 and that is exactly what the Town pays for them, so this is not a profit-making venture. Stop at the Town Hall lobby to purchase them; we accept cash, checks or credit cards, and expect to have enough in stock through the end of turtle nesting season on October 31.”
Rae explained that the Town decided to offer turtle friendly lights “because many people who live on the island said they had trouble locating them or were not sure what type to buy, so we cut out the middle portion of that problem by having the correct ones right here, to make it easier on everybody. People who purchase them from us are grateful, as they no longer have to worry about citations or any backlash, as well as being the right thing to do for the turtles!”
If you want to shop for your own turtle-friendly lights, Rae recommended the 3-step process offered by the FWC: “Keep It Low, meaning mount lights low to the ground so they only illuminate what you need without scattering light to the beach; Keep It Shielded, so no light leaks onto the beach or open water; and Keep It Long, meaning the wavelength of the lights, with Amber the best. You can order Wildlife Friendly Fixtures directly from the FWC at www.myFWC.com.”
In addition to offering turtle-friendly lights for purchase, Rae conducts free turtle lighting inspections. “I do these Wednesday evenings and everyone seems to really appreciate it. This is the first year the Town offers these inspections, to keep the turtles from approaching buildings, so they stay on the beach and make it safely into the Gulf, and they are going well. I must wait until sunset, so I cannot start earlier than 8:30 p.m. and usually do them up to 10 p.m., with inspections generally taking 15 to 30 minutes. To schedule one, email me directly at email@example.com and I will arrange one with you. We are glad the island is a safe haven for nesting sea turtles, as the babies are super cute and the adults majestic, and our residents and visitors are proud that Fort Myers Beach is a Town known for protecting its wildlife!”
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 at www.turtletime.org, or the FWC Hotline at 888-404-3922.
By Gary Mooney
Editor’s Note: The author is a board member of Friends of Lovers Key State Park.
First Nest Hatches on FMB
Last weekend the first turtle nest of the season hatched on Fort Myers Beach with 91 hatchlings making their way to the Gulf of Mexico. Eve Haverfield of Turtle Time, Inc, reports that recent high tides did not wash away any of the FMB nests. “In general, eggs can tolerate a wash-over but being submerged for hours usually is not conducive to their survival…but then again, on Big Hickory Island, last year, a nest was submerged multiple times for an extended period of time (for days!) and it hatched with an amazing survival rate. These turtles are survivors….fascinating and inspiring!”
While Loggerhead turtles are our most common turtle visitors, this year both Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach have seen Green Turtle nests.
Turtle watchers are anxiously waiting to see if a record is broken this year for the number of nests on Fort Myers Beach. The record, set in 2017, is 99 nests. Bonita Beach’s previous record of 206 nests has already been surpassed. Keep up with the latest turtle nest count on the Island Sand Paper’s Around & About page each week.
Sidebar Photo Caption: The first nest to hatch on Fort Myers Beach last weekend sent 91 hatchlings to the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy of Turtle Time, Inc.