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Sea turtles are making their way back to the beaches

May 15, 2019
By MEGHAN BRADBURY ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

As the loggerhead sea turtles make their way to the beaches of Southwest Florida, residents are asked to keep the creatures' best interests at heart this summer as they lay their nests and their hatchlings make their way back to the ocean.

Director of Turtle Time, Inc. Eve Haverfield said as of Tuesday, Fort Myers Beach has three loggerhead turtle nests and five false crawls. Bonita Beach has 20 loggerhead turtle nests and 13 false crawls.

"It all depends on the weather and year. The peaks are usually in June and July. We are ahead of last year at this time, but it is not an indication it will be a terrific year," Haverfield said.

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Turtle Time monitors Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Beach, Bunche Beach, Hickory Island and a portion of Bokeelia. Each volunteer is assigned to a zone, a stretch of beach, on a weekly basis all summer.

In 2017, Fort Myers Beach had a banner year with 99 loggerhead nests. She said the 2017 population is expected to nest this year. With that said, the red tide event last summer may have driven some of those loggerheads away.

"We may have lost some of the loggerheads that would come to nest this year. It is up in the air with the type of season," Haverfield said. "We are ready and looking forward to a good season."

There are many simple, little things residents and visitors of Fort Myers Beach can do to ensure the loggerheads make their way to the beach and ocean.

"First and foremost are the lights," she said. "Sea turtles are nocturnal animals. They are affected by light."

The lights, for adult sea turtles, distracts and disorients them as they make their way onto the sandy beaches to lay their nests. The same goes for the hatchlings -- if they see light it could disorient them and bring them further away from the ocean.

"It is a crucial part of survivability of sea turtles," Haverfield said.

She asks that residents and visitors shield their lights, including interior lights, at 9 p.m. It is important to turn off nonessential lights and decorative lights.

An alternative is to use amber LED lights par 20, which the Town of Fort Myers Beach sells for an inexpensive price of $8.

"They last for a long time and cut down on the electricity bill," Haverfield said.

Although the amber LED lights look dim, when standing directly under the light they are very bright.

"It has a wavelength that is very long and it seems we can't see it that well. Turtles don't see that, either," she said.

Haverfield said several business have converted to amber lights on the beach, one of which is the Pink Shell. She said all of the balconies have amber LED lights.

"We are so pleased and we congratulate them. As season progresses I will acknowledge those businesses that have converted to LED," she said.

Another important measure to take while enjoying the beach is to put away beach furniture. With sea turtles not having the ability to crawl backwards if they encounter furniture they will get trapped. For example, Haverfield said if the loggerhead comes ashore and encounters a light weight chair they will keep crawling back into the water with the chair on their shell.

"Sea turtles are air breathing reptiles. They have to come up for air. If entangled they can't come up, and then drown," she said.

Sandcastles and holes are always fun to make while visiting the beach, but for sea turtles they can become life threatening.

"We ask that people please, at the end of the day, fill in those holes, knock down those sandcastles. You are basically imperiling an endangered species," Haverfield said. "We are asking people to be turtle friendly. Holes are a danger to beachgoers and certainly a danger to sea turtles and hatchlings. What's good for turtles is good for people."

She said that sea turtles are caretakers of the ocean and we would be hard pressed to have a healthy ocean without the turtles.

Turtle Time monitors Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Beach, Bunche Beach, Hickery Island and a portion of Bokeelia. Each volunteer is assigned to a zone, a stretch of beach, on a weekly basis all summer.

"We have a fantastic group of people," she said.

Haverfield said she has been helping the sea turtles for 30 years, 10 years on Sanibel.

"We purchased a home on Sanibel. The first time I ever walked on Sanibel I came across these tracks and was mesmerized. I did the night time tagging patrols on Sanibel," she said.



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