Turtle Time volunteers to start monitoring beach today
If you happen to see people on Fort Myers Beach beginning this week, it doesn’t mean that they are trespassing or that the beach has been opened. Starting Wednesday, Turtle Time volunteers will be hitting the beach to start looking for signs of turtle activity as the turtle nesting season gets underway.
Sea turtles are expected to begin popping up from out of the Gulf of Mexico in the next couple of weeks looking for places to lay eggs. Turtle Time, as they have been doing since 1989 under founder Eve Haverfield, will be looking to rope off any areas where there is turtle nesting activity.
Town of Fort Myers Beach Manager Roger Hernstad and town staff have provided the volunteers with cards allowing them to do their work while the sand of the beach remains closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Officially, turtle season starts May 1,” Haverfield said. However, the next two weeks will give her volunteer group a chance to catch any early birds and start keeping track of any sea turtle visitors who are searching for nesting areas, but haven’t yet laid any eggs. Turtle activity typically picks up in May, peaking in June and July.
Most of the turtles found on Fort Myers Beach are loggerheads, which are threatened species protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act as well as by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation. As the sea turtles are considered nocturnal creatures, their nesting activity happens at night. Turtle Time is up at dawn to try to find any turtle marks on the beaches.
Last year’s sea turtle nests were among the best recorded with 112 nests, which was an important achievement off of a down here in 2018 due to red tide and more than the 99 nests discovered in 2017. “Things have improved over the years because of conservation efforts,” Haverfield said. When she started documenting nests in 1989, there were five recorded on Fort Myers Beach.
“I’m kind of a scientific person. I like nature,” Haverfield said in explaining what she enjoys about the documentation. “It’s an evolving science.”
Beginning May 1, there will be light restrictions at night for homes and businesses. Amber LED lights can be used but more powerful lights are not allowed if they can be seen from the beach. “Any kind of motion, any kind of light will disturb a turtle,” Haverfield said.
The loggerhead sea turtles which are most common to Fort Myers Beach, have a lifespan in the wild that averages between 50 and 70 years though they are difficult for scientists to keep track of since they outlast the majority of those tracking them. One of their biggest threats are the nets from fisheries.
The sea turtles will nest in intervals of 11-15 days, Haverfield said. They can nest anywhere from three to nine times in a season, she said. Each nest holds 100 to 120 eggs, with about 82 percent successfully hatching on the beach historically, Haverfield said. Those turtles than have to survive a treacherous path into the water. The percentage of those that successfully survive into adulthood is far fewer. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, an average of one in 1,000 will make it that far.
Haverfield said there is a lot of excitement in the air from those wanting to help Turtle Time but said now isn’t the time for new volunteers. With the beach closure and COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, Turtle Time is currently restricting participation in its efforts to those with experience in doing so. There will be a group of about 40 volunteers spread out on the beach beginning this week decked out in yellow and blue Turtle Time shirts.
“We’ve had to do a lot of planning to go through the proper channels,” Haverfield said about the group’s efforts during this sensitive period of time.
In addition to Fort Myers Beach, the group also covers Bonita Beach, Big Hickory Island and Bunche Beach.
“Sea turtles are very mysterious and elusive. I find that compelling,” Haverfield said.