Turtle journal

September 6, 2018


In Volusia County, nesting season officially starts May 1st and runs through October 31st.  As the ocean temperature rises 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 along the sandy beaches.  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.

If you are walking on the beach, you can easily tell approximately how old a nest is by the color of the ribbon around the stakes.
July nests are orange, August nests are dark green and September nests are yellow!  Also, when nests are due to hatch, the nests north of the inlet will get a bright lime green colored ribbon tied to one of the nest stakes.  South of the inlet, an extra stake with a bright pink ribbon will be positioned around the nest.

Sea turtle nesting season is winding down!!!!

Since May 1, we have counted 571 total nests throughout the County managed beaches.  4 of them are Green nests, 3 are Leatherback nests and 564 are from our most common nesting species, the Loggerhead.  
New nests have been trickling in and only 16 were laid since the last update on August 15th.  The beaches will continue to be monitored for new nests through the end of September and then in October, only the remaining nests will be checked each day.

Right now, the remaining 194 nests are still incubating and nest evaluations are being conducted frequently. To date, we have reports of 377 nests producing 25,793 hatched eggs!  Of those evaluated nests, 345 were evaluated by counting the egg contents resulting in this number.  Another 3 nests washed out during high tides, 29 egg clutches could not be located, 6 more hatched but the contents were scavenged by a predator and 34 other nests were depredated before they hatched.

In addition to these evaluations, we have had 16 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 450-1040 hatchlings were disoriented during these events but most of them found their way to the water eventually.  At least 17 hatchlings were reported as being found dead on the beach the next morning.  Please check the lighting portion of our website for more information on the how artificial lighting harms sea turtles.  As we approach the new moon on September 9th, artificial lighting will create a brighter sky glow which may affect more nests.  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.

Washback Season started August 1st.  The first seaweed began washing in on August 28th and the first washback was recovered on September 4th!   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.

Seven picture collage of sea turtles in different habitatsTo help our sea turtles have another great season, below are some tips and reminders for people to have a safe and fun time at the beach while also helping protect our sea turtles.

•    Don’t shine lights on the beach at night. – Lights and fires can discourage sea turtles from nesting and lead baby turtles away from the water. Keep all light sources and reflections off the beach by using light shields, blinds, or by keeping fixtures low to the ground. Only use red LED flashlights.
•    Remove beach furniture at night. – Beach equipment can harm, disturb or trap nesting and baby sea turtles. It can also be detrimental to the dune system. Take ALL beach equipment with you when leaving the beach each day.
•    Fireworks on the beach are ILLEGAL. – Fireworks can harm sea life and explosions disturb nesting sea turtles. On many holidays, local organizations hold inland fireworks displays for your enjoyment.
•    Leave only your footprints on the beach when you leave. – Trash, beach furniture, large holes or sand structures and anything that is not naturally part of the coastal ecosystem can disturb natural processes like sea turtle nesting. Volusia County beaches are one of the few beaches in Florida with a recycling program, please utilize it!  Public walkovers in Volusia County are equipped with a blue trashcan and a yellow recycling bin for your convenience. Filling in any holes or taking down any large sand structures by sunset can also help ensure human safety and help sea turtles.

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 http://nsbturtles.org/
*North of the Inlet: Volusia Turtle Patrol http://turtlepatrol.com

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 http://www.myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/loggerhead/  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 http://www.myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/green-turtle/  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; http://www.myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/leatherback/

Shorebird nesting season is over but our winter residents are showing back up!  
Teams surveyed the inlet parks and county beaches for nesting shorebirds between April-August. While a few solitary nests were found in some isolated places, other nesting attempts in busy areas were unsuccessful.  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 shorebird counts are conducted each month between August and April.  In August 2018, we documented some of our seasonal Piping Plovers. 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 https://motus.org/

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

Becki O'Keefe
Sea Turtle Program
Field Manager
bokeefe@volusia.org
386-238-4716

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

Toll free landlines
when calling from:

West Volusia
386-736-5927

Daytona Beach
386-254-4612

New Smyrna Beach
386-423-3303
 

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