TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Researchers are again seeing a high number of sea turtle nests on Florida's beaches this year. The number of nests in Florida has increased over the past several years as a result of increased conservation efforts and decreased detrimental storms throughout the state.
More than 1,800 biologists, interns and trained volunteers patrol Florida's 199 nesting beaches to identify, mark and monitor nests. Researchers at Florida's three National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), located in Naples, Apalachicola and Ponte Vedra Beach, gather evidence to track sea turtle populations and document the success of the nests.
This year, 960 total nests have been reported in Florida's three NERRs. Researchers at Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve have reported 134 nests, including 10 rare green turtle nests. The nest count in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has increased from 475 in 2013 to 560 nests this year. At the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, 266 nests have been identified.
"We are very pleased to see the sea turtle population increased this year within our managed areas," said Kevin Claridge, director of the Department of Environmental Protection's Florida Coastal Office. "There are many variables that can affect population numbers, but a key component to species management is good data, which in this case would not have been possible without so many excellent partnerships and volunteer hours."
In addition to more total nests, Rookery Bay Reserve also had more hatched nests this year, totaling 360 this season, compared to just 287 last year. The increase in hatched nests reflects the improvement of statewide nesting productivity.
Additionally, Cape Romano, within Rookery Bay Reserve, is reporting the highest number of sea turtle nests since 2006. An estimated 6,000 hatchlings from those nests have made it to the Gulf -- more than double last year's reported 2,500 and soaring above the count of 678 in 2012.
Sea turtles spend the vast majority of their lives in the open ocean, only coming inland to nest. Florida is a vital area for sea turtle nesting, with nesting areas running along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The nesting season spans from early May until the end of October.
During sea turtle nesting season, those visiting beaches are asked to keep lights off at night, avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and avoid all marked sea-turtle nests. When beachgoers leave lights on at night, sea turtle hatchlings may become disoriented and head toward those lights, instead of the moonlight over the oceans.
Simple actions beachgoers can take to ensure they are not hindering hatchlings from successfully making it to the water include:
- Remove all belongings from the beach, flatten sand castles and fill in holes.
- Properly dispose of litter in designated receptacles on the beach.
- Stay off dunes and use the designated walkovers for crossing.
- Shield any artificial lighting that may shine toward the beach.
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