Turtle journal

November 6, 2018

In Volusia County, sea turtle nesting season officially starts May 1st and runs through October 31st each year.  As the ocean temperatures rise in the spring, sea turtles are triggered to begin their nesting rituals.  Each evening throughout beaches in Florida, female sea turtles will emerge from the ocean to lay clutches of eggs in the sand dunes.  Each nest contains about 100 eggs on average and are buried deeply in the dry sand. They incubate below ground from 50-70 days on average.  When they hatch, usually under the cover of darkness, these tiny baby turtles run in a frenzy to the ocean where they will start the next phases of their lives, primarily spent in the ocean following currents to their next life stage.

2018 Sea turtle nesting season summary

We counted 576 total nests throughout the County managed beaches.   567 from our most common nesting species, the Loggerhead, 6 Green nests, and 3 Leatherback nests.  We thought the last nest was laid on September 15th but then on November 7th, another Green nest was discovered! That last nest is extremely late in the season but it is currently marked and incubating on the beach.  If temperatures are warm enough to let the eggs develop, then it will hatch between late December and mid-January.

With the highest nesting years on record occurring within the last six years, 2018 is slightly below the 5 yr average of 633 nests/year.

Of the 576 nests laid, 498 were evaluated for reproductive success. There were 36,186 hatched eggs. These evaluated nests include 46 nests that were partially depredated (43 by coyote, 2 by raccoon, 1 by unknown predator) or scavenged (5 by coyote, 1 by raccoon) resulting in a loss of approximately 1,593 eggs. Another 77 nests could not be evaluated for miscellaneous reasons, including those where the eggs could not be located (57), those that were washed out (10), those that were completely depredated (5), those that were tidally inundated (4), or those that were not excavated due to other reasons (1).

In addition to these evaluations, we have had 22 reports of sea turtle disorientation events.  This happens when a nest hatches and the hatchlings become confused by bright artificial lighting in the vicinity of a nest.  The lights confuse the hatchlings and may lead them away from the water.  The reports indicate that between 713-1,590 hatchlings were disoriented during these events but most of them found their way to the water eventually.  At least 23 hatchlings were reported as being found dead on the beach the next morning.

The sea turtle lighting enforcement program opened 167 lighting cases which included violations, complaints, and requests for proactive inspections. 3 cases were referred to the Code Enforcement Board to date and at least 5 more have been referred to the December hearing.  Fines totaling $750 were imposed by the board.  There were many reports of flashlights, cell phone lights, and use of illegal fireworks which may have also negatively impaired hatchlings trying to make their way to the water while on the beach.

Please check the lighting portion of our website for more information on the how artificial lighting harms sea turtles.  If you are visiting or live on the beach, please take a few minutes to ensure that the lights you use at night are safe for sea turtles.

Seven picture collage of sea turtles in different habitatsWashback Season 2018

Washback sea turtles are recently hatched turtles that have been deposited on the beach in a line of seaweed during or after a storm.  Washbacks typically are found during high tides between August 1 and November 30.  Washback turtles are collected and rehabilitated at the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet. We do not encourage people to put these washback turtles back in the water.  They are often so exhausted that they will not make it back off shore on their own.  Please notify a lifeguard if you find one on the beach.The Marine Science Center received a total of 210 washback sea turtles in the 2018 season between Aug-Nov 30. (193 Loggerhead, 12 Green, and 5 Hawksbill). There are currently no washback sea turtles being housed at the Marine Science Center as the last ones were released on December 1st.

101 hatchlings were also found on the beach and were taken to the MSC for care.  This results in a total of 311 young sea turtles recovered off Volusia beaches this year!

In addition, a total of 58 Washback Watcher volunteers spent 326 hours surveying for washback sea turtles on 47 separate days. They found 32 total washback sea turtles. The Beach Safety division also spent 128 hours surveying for washbacks. Beach Safety personnel found or transported a total of 134 washbacks to the Marine Science Cente

Shorebirds

Teams surveyed the inlet parks and county beaches for nesting shorebirds between April-August. In 2018, most shorebird nesting activity was in Bethune Beach at the south end of New Smyrna Beach with at least 7 documented Wilson’s Plover (WIPL) nests and many fledglings observed.  At least 2 more WIPL nests incubated in Smyrna Dunes Park - only the chicks were observed, no eggs seen.  Disappearing Island - There was 1 WIPL nest documented in May and 1 in June, and up to 7 Least tern (LETE) nests in June.  However the outcome of all nests on the island is unknown and there was no confirmed production.

All shorebird nests laid on county beaches are cordoned off from human disturbance so that they have the best chance of being successful.  If you are interested in seeing them for yourself, please stay OUT of all posted areas; bring binoculars and look from afar.  Disturbance to nesting birds can cause them to abandon the eggs, leaving them exposed for too long and vulnerable to predators.  Remember, these are small, well camouflaged eggs laid in the sand, so even walking into posted areas could be fatal to baby birds!!  In many cases both the mother and the father birds monitor the nest. If the adult bird notices you, take a few steps back because you are too close!

If you see an injured bird, report it to Beach Safety personnel (386-239-6414) as soon as possible.  County staff are trained to rescue injured birds and make sure they receive proper care.

Our winter resident snowbirds are showing back up!

Winter shorebird counts on the Ponce Inlet area are conducted each month between August and April.  In August 2018, we began documenting some of our seasonal Piping Plovers (PIPL’s). On the October survey, we counted a total of 13 PIPL’s in 1 location.  Four of them were banded and were traced back to four separate breeding populations in North America!

During late summer and early fall, many species will migrate through our area and some will stay for a few months during the winter.  Thanks to the USFWS, there is a new Motus (bird & flying animal) tracking station attached to the Control Tower in Lighthouse Point Park (Ponce Inlet north jetty).  So far, interesting species data has been collected from different species passing within range of the transmitter.  For more info about Motus, check out the Motus website

More information about the sea turtle nesting programs

The volunteer groups that survey the beaches each morning for sea turtle activity made the night before are able to tell which species has laid each nest by the distinct tracks the mother leaves as she crawls from the ocean to the dunes and back to the water.  When they find a track that leads to buried eggs, they establish a distinct barrier to mark the nest location which keeps people from disturbing the sand at that location.  The barrier remains in place until the nest hatches and the contents are evaluated.

To learn more about sea turtles and the groups that survey Volusia County beaches for them you can now visit their websites,

*South of the Inlet: NSB Turtle Trackers website

*North of the Inlet: Volusia Turtle Patrol website

Sea turtle nests are available for adoption through both groups listed above. You may contact these groups through their websites and to get more information on what they do and other fun stuff!

In terms of the number of nests laid, the east coast of Florida is considered 1 of 2 top international world wide Loggerhead nesting regions.  In fact, the Loggerhead sea turtle is commonly referred to as Florida’s sea turtle.  The southeastern United States, namely Florida, hosts the world’s largest nesting aggregation of loggerhead sea turtles.  In 2017, there were 96,886 loggerhead sea turtle nests in Florida. Here in Volusia County we expect several hundred Loggerhead nests each season. During the 2017 season we had 634 nests! An average season yields about 528 nests on County-managed beaches.

According to FWC marine biologists, between 1998 and 2007, there had been a drastic decline in all populations of the Loggerhead sea turtles nesting in Florida.  Since 2007, Loggerhead sea turtle nesting has been on the rise with 2016 setting a new record high of 122,707 nests!  For more info, please visit FWC - Loggerhead website  and http://www.myfwc.com/media/4148307/loggerheadnestingdata12-16

Beginning in late June or early July we expect to start seeing nests from Green sea turtles. Greens typically lay fewer nests than Loggerheads on Volusia County beaches (in the 10’s instead of 100’s). Green nesting numbers appear to be increasing throughout the state and within Volusia County.  In Florida, 2017 set a new record high year with 53,102 nests!  For more info, please visit FWC - Green Turtle website In 2017, we observed a new record high of 82 Green turtle nests on Volusia beaches.

Leatherback sea turtles typically concentrate their nesting efforts in south Florida.  This particular species has a longer nesting season than other turtles (March through November).  In 2017, we had 0 documented Leatherback nests which was a disappointment.  Nesting numbers in other parts of the state were also lower than expected with only 663 nests counted statewide after a 3 year trend of over 1,000 nests per season! More info can be found here; FWC - Leatherback website

OTHER NEWS:

 Nice wide, dry, sandy beach areas are needed for sea turtle nests to incubate successfully.  Sea turtles eggs are air-permeable and they will not survive if inundated by water for extended periods of time.  Often times when nests are laid too close to the area of high tides or near water runoff locations, the eggs are relocated to an area that is higher and dryer.  The Conservation Zones are filling up with natural plants recruiting in on their own.  Not only does it look beautiful, but plants help our dunes get stronger.  These vegetated dunes are the first line of protection during storms.

Outside of sea turtle nesting season, the beach is opened to public driving from sunrise to sunset.  However from May 1 –Oct. 31- the beach opening and closing times are from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.  This allows time for sea turtle monitoring crews to clearly mark all the nests and perform vital tasks before the beach is open to driving for the public.

Please remember and be understanding that vehicular access to the beach may be delayed or prohibited when environmental conditions such as high tides warrant.   Also remember that driving and parking are never allowed within the Conservation Zone.  The beach will reopen to driving as soon as conditions permit.

Remember: sea turtles dig the dark! - The Volusia County lighting ordinance is enforced throughout the entire county each May-October.  The goal of the ordinance is to reduce the amount of light visible from the beach.  Sea turtles can be misguided or deterred by artificial bright lights.  Properties within line sight of the beach have a responsibility to do their part to ensure the lighting on their property does not affect sea turtle nesting activity in the vicinity.   We can help assist you if you have questions.

Please check back to this site regularly, as we will have updates to the nesting season and data posted as numbers change.  We will let you know how many nests have been laid, their success and failure stories and any other pertinent and exciting information about the program we can think of!

Hope to see you at the beach!

Jennifer Winters
HCP Program Manager
jwinters@volusia.org
386-238-4668

Samantha McCorkle
HCP Program Field Manager
smccorkle@volusia.org

Christina Phillips
Sea Turtle Lighting Specialist
csphillips@volusia.org
386-238-4773

386-736-5927

For stranded sea turtles during
business hours call Beach Safety
and option 0 for operator:
386-239-6414

For stranded sea turtles during
nights and weekends call Sheriff's
dispatch and option 1 for operator:
386-248-1777

For any other stranding call FWC:
1-888-404-3922