Sea Turtles Rule the Beach at Manasota Key

If you are an environmentalist you rarely have a day that lifts your spirits up if you think too much about the future, with massive increases in human population and over-utilization of planetary resources. However there is a feel-good story going on right now out at Manasota Beach. The number of sea turtle nests on Florida beaches is remarkable- check out the nest markers, stakes with fluorescent tape in a triangle set by Turtle Patrols. This year so far is a close second to the record number of nests in 2016 for this stretch of beach. It is believed that recent increases in nesting are due to decades of protection of adult turtles (by requirement of turtle excluder devices on shrimp and fish trawl nets) and nest protection. The enlarging population of adults is actually straining the ability of the volunteers to mark and document the nests.

Turtle patrols in my area of southern Manasota Key are organized by the Coastal Wildlife Club and they do a fabulous job in walking the beaches daily and marking and documenting nest success. See their website for numbers of nests, trends, and other information ( http://www.coastalwildlifeclub.org/ ). Now this is certainly a fun job with a great deal of satisfaction, but the physical labor involved can be substantial as well as the dedicated time involved. So kudos to them.

During my dawn three mile walk every morning I often encounter tracks left by female turtles as they drag their heavy bodies high up on the beach out of likely high tides. In my photo taken at Stump Pass beach you can see the circular path of the female and three of the turtle patrol volunteers documenting the nest site. They will return periodically to check on the nest and after 45- 60 days when the nest is expected to hatch will watch for signs that the eggs have hatched. Since the babies emerge at night, there are only tiny track-ways left where the turtles scampered down to the sea after digging out of the nest in a combined effort.

Hatchling loggerhead turtles are small at about 2 inches long and are bite size for many predators. It is important for them to crawl to the sea at night and imprint on the smells and location of their natal area. If they are one of the very few to survive to adulthood, they will return 2.5-3 decades later to nest on the same beach. Young sea turtles are rarely seen once they go to sea and the early years are mostly a mystery.

Turtle patrol volunteers dig up the nests after they hatch and count out the remains to estimate the results. Of the approximately 120 eggs in this nest the volunteer is sorting by hatched, predated, dead in shell, dead after hatching and alive.

So go to the beach and enjoy the unusual success that conservation efforts have achieved for sea turtles. It is a thrilling result that I hope can be extended to some other species.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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