Turtle Time Arrives
After banner year, turtle nesting season returns to Fort Myers Beach
The first Saturday in May this week marks the beginning of sea turtle nesting on Fort Myers Beach, on the heels of a record-setting season for the town.
Turtle Time recorded 132 loggerhead turtle nests last year, the most on Estero Island though not the most for the organization’s entire radius. The Fort Myers Beach group, which boasts more than 50 volunteers from around town and about 160 volunteers from all areas, counted 295 nests total last year for an area including Bonita Beach, Bunce Beach and Big Hickory Island. Their record count was 367 in 2019.
“So far, we have not documented anything,” said Turtle Time co-founder Ever Haverfield about the search for sea turtle nests. The first turtle nesting on Florida’s Gulf coast was recorded in Manasota Key.
“We’re still waiting,” Haverfield said. Last year, the organization counted earlier activity. “It’s been cool nights,” she said.
The sea turtle count on Fort Myers Beach benefited last year from the beach being closed for part of the pandemic as well as decreased beach traffic from vacation rentals, Haverfield said. Bonita Beach did not have the same slowdown in vacation rentals which led to their nests being less than Fort Myers Beach. “We feel a lot of them (on Bonita Beach) were disturbed,” Haverfield said.
All of the sea turtle nests last year on Fort Myers Beach were by the loggerhead turtle, which can reach up to 400 pounds according to the World Wildlife Fund. While Sanibel Island also sees leatherback and green turtles, Haverfield said Fort Myers Beach rarely gets those. She said Sanibel and Captiva’s lighting restrictions are “very sea turtle friendly,” though Fort Myers Beach will occasionally see such a nest. Sanibel and Captiva are also “further out into the Gulf,” Haverfield noted.
Haverfield is hopeful a green turtle or leatherback could be found nesting on Fort Myers Beach this year. While green turtles are similar in size to loggerheads, leatherbacks are much larger and can reach up to 1,500 pounds according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Beginning May 1 at 9 p.m., outdoor lighting is restricted in the Town of Fort Myers Beach except for shielded amber lights pointing downwards. Haverfield said amber lighting has long wavelengths “and sea turtles don’t respond to long wavelengths.”
All windows should be covered in drapes and curtains. Unnecessary lighting indoors should be turned off. Violators risk being fined due to the disoritentation of sea turtles and hatchlings which can cause death.
The Town of Fort Myers Beach recommends the use of blackout curtains and moving interior lights away from windows.
Haverfield said other items residents and visitors should be checking off is the removal of beach furniture at night, or moving the furniture behind dunes.
Fill in holes
While children’s sand castles may seem like harmless fun, holes in the ground could be dangerous for turtle hatchlings who could become stuck while trying to get to shore. In deeper holes dug into the sand, nesting turtles could also get stuck, she said. Haverfield said beachgoers should make sure they fill in holes on the beach at the end of the day.
While it is acceptable to walk on the beach at night, using flashlights or cell phones for light is prohibited. If you run into a turtle nesting on the beach, keep your distance and do not take any flash photography, which is against the law, Haverfield said. Do not make any noise so the turtle is not disturbed and can lay its eggs. “Stay very far back. You can watch and let your eyes became accustomed to the dark,” she said.
While this may seem like common sense, do not start a bonfire on the beach. Haverfield said somebody recently started a bonfire in the Critical Wildlife Area. That is also illegal and isn’t good for any wildlife including humans. “Bonfires are illegal on Fort Myers Beach,” Haverfield said.
For those walking their dogs, make sure they are on a leash so they don’t interfere with a sea turtle, their hatchlings or nests.
It is also illegal to harm or harvest sea turtles.
Hopes for 2021
Haverfield would like to see the organization’s coverage area equal the 2019 numbers for sea turtles.
The loggerhead sea turtle is considered threatened in the United States and is protected under the Endangered Species Act. They nest on average, every other year.
The nests take about 55-65 days to hatch on average.
According to Haverfield, 16 dead sea turtles have washed up on the shores of their coverage area including six on Fort Myers Beach. The number of deaths are not as high as the 2018 red tide event. Haverfield said the causes for the deaths are unknown. Turtles face a number of challenges in the water from pollution, boat traffic, red tide, a cold winter, damage to the ecosystem and loss of marine life.
One of the jobs of Turtle Time is to collect the carcasses of the dead sea turtles and deliver them to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Some are saved for necropsies, which Haverfield has a freezer for. If they are too large, they are delivered to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) on Sanibel.
After more than 30 years of volunteering her time to save the sea turtles and being responsible for the resurgence of sea turtles in the area, Haverfield had a simple answer for her dedication: “It’s part of my genetic makeup at this point.”
With a background in the health and sciences, Haverfield said her belief was that “we harm nature so much, at some point we have to help nature.”