ENGLEWOOD — The numbers suggest this year might be a robust year for sea turtle nesting on local barrier islands.“We’re just in peak nesting season now,” Zoe Bass said.
She and Wilma Katz are the state primary permit holders overseeing Coastal Wildlife Club sea turtle nesting volunteers on Manasota Key.
Mote Marine Laboratory oversees sea turtle volunteers from Venice north to Longboat Key. So far this season, Mote reports 1,251 loggerhead and eight green sea turtle nests. Both Bossman and Bass reported the first nests hatching this season. Now is a good time to remember how dangerous artificial light is to nesting sea turtles and their broods emerging from nests. Artificial lights can confuse the baby turtles’ natural instinct to scramble towards Gulf waters and disorient them to where they head inland instead. While no artificial lights would be ideal, Florida’s coastal jurisdictions and the state are doing what they can to minimize the impact on nesting sea turtles. Sarasota and Charlotte counties have implemented sea turtle ordinances requiring home and other property owners along the Gulf to turn off, dim, shade or redirect lights away from Gulf beaches.
The state also has prohibitions and penalties for those charged with interfering with a nesting turtle, disrupting their nests or hatchlings.
According to a 1996 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission technical report by Blair E. Witherington and R. Erik Martin, artificial lightning can disrupt sea turtle females and hatchlings emerging from the nests. Hatchlings are particularly susceptible since their instincts tell them to seek the natural light reflected off the waters of the Gulf, Atlantic and other water bodies. “On naturally lighted beaches, hatchlings escaping from nests show an immediate and well-directed orientation toward the water,” Witherington and Martin wrote. “Hatchlings become misdirected because of their tendency to move in the brightest direction, especially when the brightness of one direction is overwhelming greater than the brightness of other directions, conditions that are commonly created by artificial light sources,” the report stated. Also, cell phone and other flashlights caused nesting female turtles to abort their nesting attempts and make “false crawls,” heading back into the Gulf without laying any eggs.