by SC Reporter Reanna Haase
As sea turtle nesting season approaches, staff and volunteers of Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation want to make sure beach goers are fully informed on how to share the beach.
Sea turtle nesting season will officially begin April 15. SCCF Coastal Wildlife Director/Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Kelly Sloan said staff and volunteers will start to monitor the beaches at the beginning of sea turtle nesting season.
“They are mating right now, getting ready to lay those eggs,” Sloan said. “If we find a nest, we will verify the egg chamber, put a screen on top of it to protect it from predators and then we mark it off and monitor it every day.”
Nests will start showing up more frequently in the beginning of May and after about 45 to 60 days the nests will begin to hatch. Three days after the nests hatch, Sloan said they survey how successful the nest was by logging the number of eggs hatched. Along with evaluating the nests in the morning, the night shift staff and volunteers will document and put tags on the mothers nesting from dusk until dawn to track the population.
“At this point, a lot of our turtles are tagged already because we will see the same individuals over and over again. We are learning a lot about their life history, behavior, and biology through that project,” Sloan said.
Holly, a green sea turtle tagged by the SCCF turtle team in 2019, left, and a Leatherback false crawl.
More often than not, SCCF walkers will come across what is called a false crawl. That is when a sea turtle will come onto to beach prepared to nest but turn around for any number of reasons. Sloan said some common reasons a sea turtle might false crawl are because of human activity, bright lights, or sand not having the proper moisture. Sometimes the conditions will seem perfect, but Sloan said when they see a false crawl, it is common to find the mother nesting a few hours later in a new spot.
The majority of SCCF walkers are volunteers. Jack Brzoza, coastal wildlife biologist and the point of contact for people hoping to volunteer, said they have anywhere between 75 to 100 volunteers, depending on the season.
“They are super passionate about what they do. Some of them have been volunteering with the social program for 15 to 20 years. They have really watched it grow, from like a couple 100 nests and now we get somewhere around 859 nests. So, it’s really quite incredible to see the kind of dedication that they have,” Brzoza said.
The walkers are required to complete a training course through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, plus additional training with the SCCF staff. Nancy Riley, a volunteer walker said part of the volunteers’ jobs are to inform beach goers on how they should behave on the beach.
“If they come across the nest before we get there, we ask that they do not walk on the tracks because we use the tracks to determine what happened and if they walk all over it…then those signs are destroyed,” Riley said. “We ask people to let us know because sometimes we miss them, or they come in after we walk.”
SCCF asks if any issues are found with a nest, nesting turtles, or hatchlings, beach goes call the sea turtle hotline at 978-728-3663. Issues can likely be prevented by practicing proper beach etiquette to ensure we live harmoniously.
“We cannot do it alone; we need beach goers help to protect these animals,” Sloan said. “It is important to remember that we share the shore with them…We have to remember to fill in all the holes at the end of the day…remove all your furniture that can cause entanglement issues for turtles coming onto the shore…turn out any lights that are visible from the beach…and pick up any garbage.”
A recent Santiva Chronicle Instagram poll showed more than half of the respondents knew to fill in holes and remove furniture from the beach. They also knew not to approach marked turtle nests.