Turtle Time: Nesting Season Underway

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    Eve Haverfield is an investigator in her own version of CSI: Fort Myers Beach, and her beat is nesting turtle season. “I love the excitement of determining what happened,” she relates in a sleuthy manner. “I see if nesting occurred, and if I can determine the species. What is the history of the nesting area, and are there human or animal footprints? Even after the babies hatch, did they all come out? Where did they go? Did they survive? It’s a compelling challenge!”

    Nesting turtle season is annually from May 1 through October 31, though Eve comments “we found our first nest on Sanibel Island a few weeks ago, and now have one on Fort Myers Beach as of April 25. We actually monitor the beaches beginning April 15, and nesting can continue into early November.”

    Eve founded Turtle Time, Inc., a non-profit in 1989, for marine turtles on Big Hickory Island, and Bonita, Bunche, and Fort Myers Beach. “When I began I was an army of one with 5 nests,” she says, laughing at the memory. “Today we over 100 volunteers and had 73 nests in 2015. We take care of their habitat in exchange for everything they do for us; it is a No Deposit, No Return philosophy.”

    sea turtles, nesting area
    Sea turtle nesting area, facing The Gulf. Photo by Gary Mooney.

    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 compete with businesses and coastal residents. Lights from these developments can prevent females from coming ashore, or choosing an inferior location from which few hatchlings will survive. These lights disorient hatchlings, causing them to move toward that source and away from the Gulf, resulting in death from dehydration, exhaustion or automobiles. Turn off, shield and direct downward all balcony and outside lights. Close drapes or blinds after dark, and use Wildlife Friendly Fixtures. Never shine a flashlight or use flash photography on a sea turtle, nor approach them on the beach.

    Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling
    Loggerhead turtle hatchling. Courtesy of Turtle Time, Inc.

    Equally important is to remove all beach furniture, boats, tents, toys, or like items by 9 p.m. Fill in holes dug in the sand because they can trap hatchlings and even adults. “One of our most crucial missions is Human Attitudinal Adjustments so humans and turtles share the beach in partnership. Tourists love our educational signs because they learn something cool while on vacation. We enjoy educating the public and most help willingly. Federal and State law protects the turtles, and this year in particular, code enforcement will ensure everyone follows the rules.” If you find a hatchling in the daytime, put it in a dry container and call Turtle Time immediately.

    Nesting turtles travel thousands of miles, from their feeding grounds back to the beaches of their birth. Loggerheads nest 3 to 7 times a season, every 11 to 15 days, with an approximate 2-month incubation period. Each nest can have 100 or more eggs, and its temperature determines gender: cooler sand results in mostly males, warmer females. Out of every 1,000 born, between 1 and 4 make it, though 100% nest survival rates do occur. Babies are about 2 inches long, hatch at night, and crawl to the seaward horizon where the sky meets the water. Adults grow to over 3 feet and 300 pounds, and do not mature until they are from 20 to 50 years old in a lifespan of 70 to 90 years.

    post nesting loggerhead turtles
    Loggerhead post-nesting. Courtesy of Turtle Time, Inc.

    “We protect several species,” offers Eve. “Loggerheads are the bulldozers, while Kemp’s Ridley is the smallest and most endangered. Leatherbacks eat 400 to 500 pounds of jellyfish daily, while Greens are vegetarians and Hawksbills dine on sponges. Each plays its own special role in preserving the ocean for our benefit. What is good for sea turtles is good for people; we cannot survive without one another.”

    Frustrations abound: “There is no way to describe the feeling of scraping dead hatchlings off the roadway because someone left on a light,” Eve reflects soberly. “Or when you discover a turtle hacked to death by a boat propeller or see tumors caused by pollution. Sometimes a nest is about to hatch, and a storm rolls in and drowns it. You need emotional strength for these instances.”

    Positives, however, far outweigh negatives for Eve: “You are part of the solution and not the problem. I love to work not only with animals but people, and it is wonderful to see them change their mindsets. What we do is unique, with global significance. Greens 20 years ago were endangered, today the population increase moved them up to threatened, so I see firsthand that conservation works. When humans share the beach in peace with sea turtles, it is all worth it!”

    sea turtles, nesting
    Sea turtle. Courtesy of Turtle Time, Inc.

    To volunteer, obtain information or report a disoriented, lost, injured or dead hatchling or turtle contact Turtle Time Inc., at 239-481-5566 or www.turtletime.org. For lighting details contact the Town of Fort Myers Beach at 239-765-0202, extension 1702, and for Wildlife Friendly Fixtures see http://myfwc.com/conservation/you-conserve/lighting/certified. Join the nesting sea turtle protection effort and become the next investigator for CSI: Fort Myers Beach!

     

    Gary Mooney