Turtle Time Starts With a Bang

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5 Nests on April 30

Sea turtle nesting season was to officially start on Fort Myers Beach on May 1, running through October 31, but no one told the turtles! On Thursday morning, April 30, a record-setting five loggerhead sea turtle nests were found on the island, reported Eve Haverfield, who founded the non-profit Turtle Time in 1989 to benefit marine turtles on Big Hickory Island as well as Bonita, Bunche and Fort Myers Beaches. One lucky Turtle Time volunteer discovered four, on one of the most magical days of her life!

Eve related, “Five nests in one day – especially before the actual start of nesting season – is incredible and absolutely thrilling. I have been monitoring our beaches for 30 years now and on Sanibel for 10 years before that, and never had a day like this and it is not even May 1 yet! All Southwest Florida beaches have a friendly competition, with Sanibel already having 20 loggerhead nests and even two leatherbacks, so it was nice to have ‘bragging rights’ for one day! In previous years, it was not uncommon to find two Fort Myers Beach nests in one morning, and a few times over the decades, we even found three, but five is amazing! Even better is that all five are from the midpoint of the beach on up so they all stand excellent chances of successfully hatching.”

Pretty Amazing

Maryalice Buschbacher became a Turtle Time volunteer roughly five years ago, spending her first as a substitute. During that time, she found roughly eight total nests, peaking with four during the record-setting 2019 season, meaning that nothing about her previous experience prepared her for April 30. “Oh My God,” she exclaimed in recollection! “The weather that morning was awful, with rain and lightning and thunder all around, so much so that my partner, who does not live on the island, called to ask if they could skip that shift and I said, ‘OK,’ and went out alone in the blowing wind.”

Before long, Maryalice thought she noticed a nest and went for a closer look, “and sure enough, it was, so I called Eve. Just a bit after that, I saw another nest and all of a sudden realized that there was another right next to that one, so I called Eve again, who later told me she just rolled her eyes, thinking these must not be nests but false crawls, but I could tell by the shifting of the sand that they were nests.”

She kept walking her zone “and near a breakwall, I found an empty egg chamber and then real close to that, my fourth nest of the morning! I telephone Eve again and this time she exclaimed, “What! Another one?” That was when she decided to come out herself! By the time she arrived, there was lightning and thunder all around, and she kidded me that I was the cause of all this. We are off to a great start, so this is pretty amazing, and I doubt I will ever have another morning like April 30!”

Maryalice and her late husband first came to Fort Myers Beach to visit close friends, “and I almost immediately became interested in the nesting sea turtles and their important link to all of our lives through their crucial link to the environment, so how cool is that! I wanted to ensure that we continued to care for them, especially since I had been a schoolteacher in Michigan, and my classroom aIways had Red Slider Box Turtles, so once we moved 6 years ago, I called Eve to volunteer and now am completely committed, as it is so important to protect our nesting sea turtles.”

Side-By-Side Especially Cute!

“The first nest of the season is always exciting,” Eve offered, “and I wasn’t completely surprised we had one, as there were already three on Bonita Beach. When Maryalice first called, she was so thrilled, as was I, but when she called back a few minutes later and said there were two more, my eyes kind-of rolled up into the back of my head and I thought, ‘she must be confusing faIse crawls with nests,’ as those can happen frequently on Fort Myers Beach early in the season, so I personally thought about heading over. Then – incredulously – came her next call about a fourth nest, and before long, I received yet another from a firefighter reporting one more at the island’s north end, and suddenly we had five! Poor Maryalice – I hate to admit that I questioned her word, but I needed to see them with my own eye’s to believe it, with the two that are side-by-side especially cute!”

Eve cannot say for sure if the now-lifted COVID-19-related Fort Myers Beach restrictions that limited beach usage could explain the record-setting day. “You can tell by the nests that the mothers walked straight out of the Gulf, made their nest, laid their eggs and walked straight back into the water. When the beach is full of people, we’ve documented cases where individuals so needlessly harassed the mom that it took her over 1,000 feet to eventually get back into the Gulf.”

Sea Turtle nests are protected by state and federal law. Give marked nests a wide berth

Eve stressed the importance of turtle-friendly Amber LED lighting: “You can buy such wonderful Amber LED lights these days that are energy efficient, provides plenty of bright light for humans, is completely safe for the turtles, and are more inexpensive every year. This is such a win-win that I no longer understand why this is an issue anymore. 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. Unfortunately, we had 15 total disorientations due to light last year and sadly 13 were on Fort Myers Beach.”

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. 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 source and away from the Gulf, resulting in death from dehydration, exhaustion, or automobiles. In addition to Amber LED lighting, 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.

To learn about Wildlife Friendly fixtures and Amber LED bulbs with links for purchase, visit bit.ly/lites4turtles  If you accidently hook or catch a sea turtle or find one in distress, being harassed or dead, immediately contact Turtle Time at 239-481-5566 or turtletime.org or the FWC Hotline at 888-404-3922. You can also call *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone or send a text to Tip@MyFWC.com. To report a turtle lighting violation contact the Fort Myers Beach Town Hall at 239-765-0202.

As for Maryalice, “I am going to keep on turtling, because other than the births of my children that are the #1 highlights, nothing else in my life can match April 30 – that is a close one-and-a-half!”

 

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  1. Sea Turtle nests are protected by state and federal law. Give marked nests a wide berth.