Turtle journal

May 22, 2019

Sea turtle nesting season is in full swing already! The current nest count is up to 90 nests and is going up daily! We have counted 88 Loggerhead nests, our most common species, 1 Leatherback and 1 rare Kemp’s Ridley nest.

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 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 phase of their lives, primarily spent in the ocean following currents to their next life stage.

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 becom8ing 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-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.

Seven picture collage of sea turtles in different habitats

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 12 top world-wide Loggerhead nesting regions. In fact, the Loggerhead sea tu

rtle 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 turtles nesting has been on the rise with 2016 setting a new record high! For more information, 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 information, please visit http://www.myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/green-turtle/ In 2018 we observed 7 Green turtles 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 information can be found by visiting http://www.myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/leatherback/

Sea Turtle Strandings
So far in 2019 we are seeing an above-average amount of stranded turtles in our area waters. The count is already over 90 turtles. Each spring turtles migrate along with the warm water temperatures back to their nesting beaches and mating areas 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. 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 through 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 during sea turtle nesting season. Sea turtles can be misguided or deterred by artificial lights. Properties within line-of-sight of the beach have a responsibility to do their part to ensure lighting on their property does not affect sea turtle nesting activity in the vicinity. We can assist you in you have questions. Please check the lighting portion of our website for more information.

Shorebird nesting season is underway!
Teams have been surveying the inlet parks and county beaches for nesting shorebirds. 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 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 in to 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.

There are currently 4 marked Wilson’s Plover nests in the Bethune Beach area of New Smyrna Beach. Eggs from 1 nest have already successfully hatched and a flightless chick can be seen running on the beach with its parents.
Spring and summer in Volusia County brings some avian visitors. Black skimmers, willets, and Wilson’s Plovers use our coastal habitats for resting and nesting. The black-bellied plover, a favorite of local birders, migrates to Florida and even farther to South America from their breeding habitat on Arctic islands. Please keep in mind that these birds need their rest for extremely long flights back to their breeding grounds. Try to view them from afar and keep disturbances to a minimum.

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 in 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 turtle nesting season, the beach is opened to public driving from sunrise to sunset. However, from May 1st through October 31st the beach is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. This allows time for sea turtle monitoring crews to clearly mark all the nest 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 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!

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