Mote welcomes a busy sea turtle nesting season with first nest
Here’s what you can do to keep your beach turtle-friendly
The first sea turtles have officially landed on the shores of Sarasota County this past weekend. On April 24, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program (STCRP) documented the first nest of the season at the southern end on Longboat Key.
“Once again, sea turtles have arrived on our beaches just before the official start of season,” said Melissa Macksey, STCRP Conservation Manager & Senior Biologist.
While sea turtle nesting season is officially May 1 to Oct. 31, STCRP began monitoring 35 miles of beaches from Longboat Key to Venice for nesting earlier this month under permits issued by the state.
During and in the weeks leading up to nesting season, sea turtles will swim just offshore of southwest Florida’s coast to mate before the females come ashore to nest, and by early summer the first hatchlings will venture into Gulf waters.
Macksey leads local sea turtle conservation efforts with hundreds of trained volunteers who love searching for turtle crawls (tracks) at the crack of dawn.
Last year, a total of 3,786 nests were counted by STCRP, making 2021 the fourth highest count in Mote’s 40 years of monitoring. This year, Mote hopes for another successful season for our region.
However, for female sea turtles and their hatchlings, nesting isn’t as simple as it sounds. Some of their largest obstacles include light disorientation and trash on the beach.
On nesting beaches, light from waterfront properties can disorient nesting female turtles and their young, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea.
“The most common reason of why a sea turtle ends up in the wrong place is because there is artificial light(s) on in that direction or at that location,” said Macksey. “They use light to navigate to the water. The females use it to find the water at the end of nesting and the hatchlings use it for the first time they emerge from the nest.”
Beach furniture and trash can also impede sea turtles and their young.
“The best thing you can do is leave the beach as natural as you can,” said Macksey. “The majority of nesting turtles in our area are loggerheads, but green sea turtle numbers continue to increase. As Sarasota County is home to the densest loggerhead nesting population in the Gulf of Mexico, success here is important to the overall population. Everyone can do their part to help our turtles have a successful season.”
Mote encourages coastal residents and visitors to keep the beach turtle-friendly with tips on our website at mote.org/2022nesting. Weekly new nest numbers are also posted here, which allows media and members of the public to follow along throughout the season. Numbers are updated weekly by end of day Monday.
*Mote’s sea turtle activities are conducted under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Turtle Permits 155, 216, 027, 054, 070, 048, 028 and 126.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program (STCRP) documented the first nest of the season at the southern end on Longboat Key.
More information about Mote’s sea turtle nest monitoring:
Approximately 300 volunteers assist Mote’s team of biologists and interns with daily monitoring of beaches, ranging in age from 10 to 85 years old
35 miles of beaches monitored, from Longboat Key through Venice
2022 is Mote’s 41st year of sea turtle monitoring
In 2020, Mote documented 3,716 nests. The previous year, 2019, was a record-breaking year with 5,112 nests
The top-five years for number of sea turtle nests in the Sarasota region have occurred in the last five years
Sea turtles, sea turtle eggs and nesting marking materials are protected under state and federal law and any harassment or interference with a sea turtle, living or dead, is subject to penalty
With the arrival of sea turtles, it’s important that members of the public enjoy the beaches while being mindful of nesting sea turtles. A list of tips and best practices are below, and Macksey adds, “The best way to remember how to help turtles is to think to yourself, ‘am I leaving the beach as natural and undisturbed as possible?’”
How to protect sea turtles when you’re on land and on the water:
Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water.
Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
Do not approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, shine lights at turtles, or use flashlights, cell phone lights, or fishing lamps on the beach.
Do not encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
Do no use fireworks on the beach.
Follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles and other large marine life.
Be sure to stow trash and line when underway. Marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a truck can become ingested by or entangled around marine life.
Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine life in your path.
If you encounter injured or sick sea turtles, DO NOT attempt to assist the animal on your own. Call trained responders at the contact information below.
If you see a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle in Sarasota or Manatee county waters, contact Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program at 888-345-2335.
Outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
If you suspect that someone is tampering with a sea turtle nest, harassing a sea turtle or has possession of a sea turtle or any of its parts, please call FWC or your local law enforcement agency.
If you find sea turtle hatchlings that are not on the beach or are headed away from the ocean, call FWC’s hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Hatchlings heading towards the ocean should be left alone.