The first turtle nest on Fort Myers Beach hatched on Monday, July 17, though volunteers weren’t sure of the exact number of hatchlings at press time, as they must wait 72 hours to legally dig the nest out.
“The one that hatched was the fifth discovered on Fort Myers Beach this season,” explained Eve Haverfield, the founder of Turtle Time, Inc., a non-profit established in 1989 for the benefit of marine turtles on Big Hickory Island, and Bonita, Bunche, and Fort Myers Beaches. “It was in an area that drains well and no one rakes. While we don’t know the number of hatchlings yet, by the tracks, it looks like a whole bunch, so we will document it and report that to the State database. Unfortunately, the first Fort Myers Beach nest did not survive, but that is nature. Heavy rains saturated that area, as we had a terrible storm on May 25, heavy rains the first week of June, then again recently, so it was unavoidable.”
With hatchlings appearing, this is the crucial time to keep people and dogs and lights and furniture on the beach away from nesting areas, “as we are on a record pace,” Eve says enthusiastically. “In 2016, we had 92 total nests on Fort Myers Beach, and this season is already 88! This is also true on Bonita Beach, where we already shattered last year’s record of 160 with 192. We are seeing conservation efforts begun in the 1960s and 1970s paying off, as it takes Loggerheads 30 to 50 years to mature and return to the beach of their birth, and these numbers fit the profile and timeline of when numbers should go back up.”
Eve laments that there is “so much beach furniture left outside all night that it is ridiculous; we tag it constantly, but see it wash into the Gulf, where it becomes a perfect trap for turtles, so this is very disconcerting. Now that nests are hatching, this is the time to be really serious about monitoring your lights and property. The Town of Fort Myers Beach has a strong code enforcement with hefty fines, but we hope people will want to voluntarily take action to protect the turtles.”
Three Golden Rules
“Our main focus is to have beachfront lighting that reduces the impact on nesting sea turtles, while maintaining safe property for people,” explains Tonya Long, a Fish & Wildlife Biologist III with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We have three Golden Rules for beachfront lighting: keep it low, keep it shielded, and keep it long when looking for good fixtures. Keep it long indicates a long wavelength, like Amber LED orange and red lights that do not attract sea turtles. A great advantage today is there are so many LED light fixtures that the cost is now quite low and they seem to last forever! Do simple things, like closing your drapes, shut off unnecessary lights and move televisions away from windows, as these cost nothing to do.”
Loggerheads nest from April 15 to October 31, with females laying several nests in a season, with 80 to 130 eggs per nest. Since the sex of the hatchlings come from the temperature of the sand, with hotter meaning females, nearly 100% of our babies are girls! Females prefer to nest on dark beaches, with lighting a navigational tool to return to the water when they are done, but if they see a brighter light, they head toward that and usually do not survive, ending up on dunes or in the road where they cars hit them.
“Hatchlings are extremely sensitive to lights,” Tonya says, “as right when they come out of the nest, they head for the bright open horizon and water, but if they see shops and homes and businesses, these disorient them and they go the wrong way and are goners!”
Equally as important is to remove all furniture, boats, tents, toys or like items from the beach by 9 p.m. Fill in holes dug in the sand that trap hatchlings and even adults. “One of Turtle Time’s missions is to establish an environment where people share the beach together with turtles, because the survival of each ultimately depends on the other,” Eve says. “This is a tourist destination so we educate the public, and most are very willing to help. Federal, State and Town law protects them, with Code Enforcement ensuring that everyone follows the rules, as it is against the law to touch or disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings or their nests.”
For Wildlife Friendly Fixtures see www.myFWC.com. To report a disoriented, lost, injured, or dead hatchling or turtle, contact Turtle Time, Inc., at 239-481-5566 or www.turtletime.org. For additional information, call the Town of Fort Myers Beach at