TALLAHASSEE - An increase in turtle nesting for the 2019 season is being reported by Florida’s National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs). The three NERRs are managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In Eastpoint, staff at the Apalachicola NERR confirmed that from May 9 to June 5 the beaches at St. George Island and Little St. George Island have 139 loggerhead nests, two green nests and one leatherback nest, compared to 62 loggerhead and no green or leatherback nests for the same period in 2018.
This is an increase of almost 130 percent of total nests.
In Ponte Vedra Beach, staff at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas NERR confirmed 99 loggerhead nests from May 9 to June 5, compared to 30 loggerhead nests for the same period in 2018, indicating a 230 percent increase in nests for 2019.
In Naples, staff at Rookery Bay NERR confirmed that their managed beaches in Collier County have a total of 512 nests from May 28 to June 3, compared to 306 nests in 2018, indicating more than a 67 percent increase in nests for 2019.
“DEP appreciates all the partners and volunteers that assist in monitoring turtle nesting," said DEP Director of Resilience and Coastal Protection Kevin Claridge. "This data is important to assessing species population and habitat conditions.”
This year also has seen an increase in false crawls, when a female sea turtle crawls onto the beach and returns to the ocean without leaving a nest.
Sea turtles have the unique ability to return to the same beach, even decades later, to repeat their nesting routine. However, changes or obstructions in the sand, rising climate temperatures or bright lights may disorient a turtle, causing a false crawl.
Apalachicola reports 180 false crawls in 2019 for loggerheads, but zero for both greens and leatherbacks, compared to 81 false crawls in 2018.
GTM Research Reserve has confirmed 54 false crawls in 2019, compared to 29 in 2018.
Rookery Bay is also experiencing higher false crawls with 546 this year compared to 413 for the same period last year.
Researchers do not yet understand fully what drives fluctuations in annual nest counts. Turtle nesting season in Florida is from May 1 through Oct. 31.
During nesting season, beachgoers should always remove beach furniture, fill in holes and smooth out sandcastles before leaving the beach. This helps prevent nesting females from encountering obstructions and allows hatchlings to successfully reach the water.
If you see a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 888-404-3922.