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Turtle journal

                               
October 28, 2019 Season Update

It’s been a year for the record books!

The total nest count for the season is at 984 nests which surpasses our previous County wide high nest count of 919 nests set in 2012!  In detail, we have counted 881 Loggerhead nests, our most common species, 4 Leatherback, 97 Green sea turtle nests (also setting a record high for the species nest count in Volusia), and 2 rare Kemp’s Ridley nests. In addition, we have counted over 800 false crawls left on the beach.  A false crawl is when a sea turtle crawls out of the ocean on the beach but does not make a nest.  

With the season coming to a close officially on October 31, nest evaluations have been underway.  Over 950 nests have been removed from the beach already.  Of those, 572 were evaluated for reproductive success and over 51,300 hatched eggshells have been counted!  Other nests that could not be fully evaluated include 89 nests where eggs could not be located, 68 nests depredated by a predator, 9 nests that hatched and then were scavenged by a predator, (making nest contents not able to be counted), 175 nests washed out due to high tides and beach erosion in late July and during Hurricane Dorian in early Sept., and 29 nests were tidally inundated which means that the eggs were held under water for more than 3 days consecutively which essentially drowns the eggs.  Interestingly enough, this year, we had 13 more nests that were not excavated because so much sand had accumulated over the marked nests that the eggs were buried an additional 4-6’ from the time they were first laid and likely not to be found.  

In greater detail, the evaluation of all nests combined resulted in the following for each category.

Hatched Eggs, 51,327
Unhatched eggs 11,523 (whole eggs, 9,984 and 1,684 broken eggs)
Pipped Live 83 (these are turtles that have cracked the egg shell open with their egg tooth but have not fully emerged from the egg)
Pipped Dead 1,859
Live hatchlings 949 (these are turtle found in the nest cavity still buried under the sand)
Dead hatchlings 1,660

In addition to these evaluations, we have had 10 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 250-630 hatchlings were disoriented during these events and most of them found their way to the water eventually.  Please check the lighting portion of our website for more information on the how artificial lighting harms sea turtles.  

Washback Season, August 1- Nov 30th.

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 when fresh seaweed washes onto the beach.  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.
To date, over 500 washbacks have been recovered off Volusia County managed beaches and taken to the Marine Science Center sea turtle hospital for care and treatment.  Most of them were released shortly after being brought to the Center.    

Nesting Season Basics

Each year, nesting season officially starts May 1st and runs through October 31st, which means that hundreds of sea turtles will be making their way onto Volusia County’s managed beaches to lay thousands of eggs in the sand this summer! Nesting activity usually occurs after dark so chances of seeing a sea turtle are slim, however, you will see posted nest areas during the day.  

As the ocean temperature rises in the spring, sea turtles are triggered to begin the nesting season.  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.  

One female turtle will lay 2-7 clutches during a season.  On average in Volusia County, we get over 500 nests.  This indicates that potentially, only a couple hundred of female sea turtles might be making them, certainly not likely to be 500 individual females here each season.  

As nest hatching season begins next week, we will be sharing exciting news about hatchling counts and anything unusual.  We will also begin removing obstacles including vehicle ruts, sand castles, and holes in the sand around the posted nest areas.  Please help us keep the beaches safe for sea turtles and people by leaving nothing behind after enjoying your day on the sand!  

Did you know that nutrients from sea turtle eggs encourages dune vegetation to grow? Well vegetated dunes mean better protection for beachfront property against heavy winds and strong storms.  In this way, sea turtle nesting can help humans.  In return, there are many ways that we can help sea turtles.  Below are simple tips and reminders on how to keep the beach safe and fun this summer.  

  • Remove shade tents, chairs, and other beach furniture from the beach at night. This will prevent sea turtles from becoming entangled or trapped as they crawl on the sand looking for a place to nest.  
  • It is fun to dig on the beach and to make sandcastles. However, holes and sandcastles left on the beach overnight can become a danger to humans and sea turtles. Fill in holes and knock down sandcastles before you leave the beach.
  • Please don't disturb a turtle that is crawling to or from the ocean or laying eggs. Watch quietly from a distance of at least 30 feet away. Keep lights and flash photography off and speak quietly.
  • Lights can discourage nesting adults and disorient hatchlings ability to find the sea. Ensure lights from your property or rental space are not visible from the beach by turning them off, shielding them, or shutting your curtains at night.   
  • Never shine lights on sea turtle nests, hatchlings, or adult turtles.  Flashlight and lantern use is discouraged; however, a flashlight with a red LED bulb or a light covered with a red filter is less disruptive to sea turtles.
  • Avoid flash photography on the beach at night, and never discharge fireworks, which are prohibited on the beach.
  • Avoid walking or cycling over marked nests or unmarked turtle tracks. Tracks in the sand help our volunteers find and mark nests.
  • Do not disturb markers or protective screening over turtle nests. These nests are being studied and protected.
  • Avoid walking on vegetated beach dunes by using designated beach access points.
  • Please don't litter. Cigarette butts, fishing line, and other trash can harm the turtles along the beach and is unsightly for beach visitors.
  • If you see a sick, injured, or dead sea turtle or other animal that needs help, DO NOT attempt to push it in the water or capture it. It may be too tired to survive. Please contact the nearest Beach Safety officer or lifeguard or call 1-888-404-FWCC.

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, or to adopt a nest you can visit their websites,

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

In terms of the number of nests laid, the east coast of Florida is considered 1 of 2 top 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 2018, there were 91,451 loggerhead sea turtle nests in Florida. Here in Volusia County we expect several hundred Loggerhead nests each season. During the 2018 season we had 567 Loggerhead nests! An average season yields over 500 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!  For more info, please visit http://www.myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/loggerhead/

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.  For more info, please visit http://www.myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/green-turtle/  In 2018, we observed 7 Green turtle nests on Volusia beaches. Since Greens tend to nest in higher numbers every other year, we anticipate 2019 to be a high Green year.  The highest count of Greens in Volusia was 82 nests in 2017.  

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 2018, we had 3 documented Leatherback nests! More info can be found here http://www.myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/leatherback/
 

Sea Turtle Strandings

In 2019, we are seeing a below average amount of stranded turtles in our area waters.  The count is at 87 turtles collected off the Atlantic beaches but there have been more found in the Halifax river and nearby beaches.  Each spring and fall sea turtles migrate along with the warm water temperatures in the oceans.  During these migrations, many become ill and wash in along our beaches either deceased or in need of medical help.  Each turtle gets responded to in a timely manner and scientific data is collected from each turtle.  This information is tracked and compiled by the FWC and a summary of it can be found on their webpage by visiting http://ocean.floridamarine.org/SeaTurtle/flstssn/cVolusia.html  
 

Remember: sea turtles dig the dark!

Sea turtle lighting regulations are in effect each May- October!  
The Volusia County lighting ordinance is enforced throughout the entire county.  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 of 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 assist you if you have questions.  Please check the lighting portion of our website for more information.  
 

Shorebird nesting season is over!  

Teams surveyed the inlet parks and county beaches for nesting shorebirds between April through August. 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) soon as possible.  County staff are trained to rescue injured birds and make sure they receive proper care.


OTHER NEWS:  

The HCP program has new staff this season.  Sami McCorkle joined us in January 2019.  Sami came to us from Broward County where she had been working with their sea turtle program since 2011.  She has an extensive amount of experience with field operations, sea turtle nesting data and habitat management.  She is a great addition to the HCP program.  

Nice wide, dry, sandy beach areas are needed for sea turtle nests to incubate successfully.  Sea turtle 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.

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!

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