Some of the first sea turtle nests of 2018 are already being discovered by Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Patrol. That’s right. The turtles are coming.
But it isn’t unusual for sea turtle nesting season to begin early, which officially runs May 1 to Oct. 31.
“The season doesn’t officially begin until May 1, but the turtles don’t read the calendar, so they sort of show up around then,” said Melissa Bernhard, senior biologist at Mote’s sea turtle conservation and research program.
The first two nests found on Longboat Key— one in Sarasota County and one in Manatee County portion — were laid by loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species. Loggerheads are the most common species in southwest Florida, followed by green sea turtles, which are also threatened.
Florida one of the most important nesting grounds for loggerhead turtles, Bernhard said.
For 36 years, Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program has documented every sea turtle nest and even the ones that don’t make it out of the nest. You can see them in Mote’s patrol area, marked with yellow stakes and flagging tape.
Over the years, Mote research has shown that nest numbers have increased recently on local beaches, with several record-breaking years in the past decade. In 2017, Mote reported 4,503 nests on Longboat Key through Venice — an almost record-breaking year.
That’s thanks to the efforts put in place after the Endangered Species Act and the work of conservation groups in the late 1970's.
Although turtles typically lay about 100 eggs per nests, Bernhard says very few of them make it to adulthood.
“The turtles take about 25 to 30 years to mature, so we think all of those efforts are really starting to pay off now,” Bernhard said. “But it’s a cause to be cautiously optimistic, because of the lag time in between all the efforts and the effects. There could also have been things that happened since that that could have been detrimental.”