The 2017 turtle nesting season is turning into something to flip(per) over.

 

The 2017 turtle nesting season is turning into something to flip(per) over.

With the season moving from nesting to hatching, numbers are impressive across the counties beaches, despite the impacts of Tropical Storm Cindy and heavy rains this summer.

“It’s been a wonderful season,” said Jessica Swindall, volunteer coordinator for the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol, which covers six miles of beach. “We are not as high as last year (272), but we are still over 200 nests, which we are happy about.

“We are seeing more frequent hatchings these days. They are hatching in pretty good numbers right now.”

The number of nests looks even better when one considers that on the peninsula alone, Cindy took out 18 nests.

Another positive trend is the arrival of green sea turtles, larger and rarer than the loggerheads more prevalent in Gulf County.

Among the 206 nests along the peninsula beach, six were green sea turtles.

For the Gulf and East Bay Turtle Patrol, which surveys the beaches of St. Joe Beach into Bay County, among 38 total nests, six were also green sea turtles.

“They are a rare species for us,” Swindall said. “They seem to show up in odd numbered years, so we are pleased to see so many this year.”

Another odd fact about green sea turtles, while they are found in large numbers in St. Joseph Bay as juveniles, upon reaching sexual maturity the turtles, as most other species, nest once every two or three years.

In another of the long list of mysteries that still remain around sea turtles, why green sea turtles seem to arrive in odd-numbered years was likely established generations ago, Swindall noted.

Most all of nesting activity surrounding turtles has been hard-wired in their DNA for centuries.

As of the beginning of this week, Indian Pass Turtle Patrol has surveyed 75 total nests this season, so all told Gulf County beaches have seen the construction of nearly 320 nests.

With each nest typically producing 100-120 eggs, added up that is a pretty significant boost to the regional sea turtle population over the coming months.

As of Monday, Indian Pass nests had produced 2,338 hatchlings and peninsula nests had seen the emergence of 3,709 hatchlings.

Incredibly, some of the nests on the peninsula originally believed to have been negatively impacted by Cindy have produced hatchlings, taking a bit longer, 70 days as opposed to a typical 60, to gestate.

“We are pretty happy about that,” Swindall said.

The key ingredient the turtles and volunteers could receive from the public, is to make way for the hatchlings on their path, or more appropriately crawl, to the sea.

“As long as they are making their crawl to the water, leave them alone,” Swindall said. “Turn all the lights out because the hatchlings are very sensitive and need to be able to see the horizon.

“Also, make sure any holes in the sand are filled and pick up all your items from the beach.”

Leave No Trace, now in its third summer in Gulf County, has gained some traction, Swindall said, though not all is pristinely perfect.

“It has been a pivotal year for Leave No Trace and we’ve seen a lot more people picking up their things at the end of the day,” Swindall said. “Maybe it helps that (turtles) are something tangible.

“They can see the tracks, people can see how they can help.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers these recommendations during hatchling season, which continues until November.

• Do not try to help hatchlings crawling toward the water. Young sea turtles need to continue their migration to the sea without assistance.

• Leave hatchlings undisturbed and watch them from a distance. Remember, it is illegal to pick up a hatchling, enter a posted nesting area or dig into a nest.

• Remove chairs, canopies and boats and other obstacles from the beach at night, and fill up holes in the sand so hatchlings can make their way unobstructed to the water.

• Refrain from taking flash photos of hatchlings, whether with a cellphone or camera. Do not shine flashlights on hatchlings or their nests.

• Minimize artificial lighting on the beach at night, or at least keep lights shielded. Bright lights on buildings or parking lots along the beach are harmful to hatchlings. The hatchlings head for the bright lights, thinking they are the sparkling sea, and end up walking landward where they may become prey for raccoons, coyotes and other animals or get run over on roads.

• Report any hatchlings that are stranded, wandering in a road or parking lot, heading away from the water or dead to the FWC’s 24-hour Wildlife Alert Hotline, 888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC or #FWC on a cellphone.