“Our local beaches had a record-shattering number of sea turtle nests in 2017,” reported 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. “If we and the turtles are lucky, 2019 could potentially break that mark!”
Eve explained the reason for 2019 optimism. “Adult Loggerhead sea turtles, the only species that nests on Fort Myers Beach, return every other year, so we compare this season to 2017 and that was a banner one! We had 99 Fort Myers Beach nests, breaking the 2016 record of 92, a significant increase from the 73 of 2015, and a far cry from our first year when we had just five! Bonita Beach also set a record with 206 nests, more than doubling the 101 from 2015 and shattering 2016’s record of 160. Big Hickory Island ended up with 22 nests, while Bunche Beach did not have any, but that is not a surprise, as it is part of the mainland and the most we ever had there was just two. When you add up those figures, we had 327 nests in 2017, up from 270 from 2016 and 183 in 2015, so that is why we are so hopeful for 2019!” In 2018, Turtle Time had 297 total nests, including 68 on Fort Myers Beach.
While Nesting Turtle Season is officially from May 1 through October 31, Turtle Time volunteers began patrolling local beaches on Monday, April 15. “We do this per the recommendation from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC),” Eve explained. “There is already some activity in Collier County, so turtles are nearby. Unfortunately, we’ve documented eight dead turtles so far in our area, most from boat strikes, and that also tells us they are in the immediate region, so please pilot your boats slowly and safely and lookout for turtles. One boater recently told me he thought he saw a bunch of plastic bags floating in the water but as he got closer, he discovered it was turtles coming up for air, so they are definitely in our offshore waters.”
Quiet Dark Beaches
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 they compete with businesses and coastal residents. These lights can prevent females from coming ashore or force them to choose an inferior nesting location from which few hatchlings survive. Lights disorient hatchlings, causing them to move toward that source and away from the Gulf, resulting in death from dehydration, exhaustion, or automobiles.
Eve has a concern about lights from several Fort Myers Beach homes, condominiums, and businesses, and asks them to please employ turtle-friendly lights and measures now. “If this were after May 1, these would be subject to the Town of Fort Myers Beach Code Enforcement violations, so please come into compliance. There are definitely some large hotels and new businesses that put out rental chairs that need to know nesting sea turtle regulations and remedy their situation before May 1.”
She asks Fort Myers Beach residents to take proactive action to protect turtles and hatchlings. “If you rent your place from spring to fall, please switch to Amber LED lights so when your renters turn them on, they are already 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. They provide plenty of light for your property, because we would never 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.”
On the positive side, Eve “applauds the Town, Florida Power & Light and the Florida Department of Transportation for their quick action in bringing the new Estero Boulevard lighting into compliance. I also applaud 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. I think this concept will work out very well and I look forward to seeing those lights myself soon.”
Caretakers of The Ocean
In addition to Amber LED lighting, people are asked to close 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 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.”
To become a Turtle Time volunteer, contact Eve. “We cannot do all that we do without our tremendous volunteers,” she raved! “You get up around 4 a.m. and walk the beach at sunrise, so what is there not to love! We provide all necessary training and especially welcome people who live right on the beach, but you must live here for most of the summer, as snowbirds tend to be gone for the vast majority of Turtle Nesting Season.”
If you accidentally hook or catch a sea turtle, 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. To switch to Amber LED lighting that do not attract nesting sea turtles, contact Town Hall at 239-765-4222 or see Wildlife Friendly Fixtures at www.myFWC.com. “We thank all the businesses, residents, and visitors who work with Turtle Time to make our beaches safe and inviting for Nesting Sea Turtles,” concluded Eve.
“Fingers crossed, 2019 will be another record-setting year!”
By Gary Mooney