The littlest loggerheads emerged from Gulf Coast beaches into turquoise waters in record numbers this season.
But it’s not over until the last sea turtle lays her final egg.
Though sea turtle nesting season in Florida is officially from May 1 to Oct. 31, barring beach renourishment projects and harsh light near the shore, Mote Marine said three more turtle nests from Longboat Key to Venice are expected to hatch around mid-November.
From Anna Maria Island to Longboat Key in Manatee County, 1,013 nests were counted by Mote’s Sea Turtle Patrol and Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch. Last year, 690 nests were counted.
“This was an incredible year for sea turtle nests,” said Mote senior biologist Kristen Mazzarella.
She attributes the success to turtle groups like the Sea Turtle Patrol and the AMI Turtle Watch, who started their efforts around 30 years ago. That’s the time it takes for a sea turtle to sexually mature.
Volunteers with the AMI Turtle Watch only missed two days out of 185 due to Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew. Because of the harsh storms, the watch said 235 marked nests were lost.
Hermine caked on about 20 inches of coarse, shell-filled sand on Anna Maria Island’s beaches, so turtle watch volunteers — by a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — carefully excavated eggs from affected nests.
This was the third-best year for hatchlings on Anna Maria Island, with 18,328 baby turtles making it out to the Gulf. Loggerheads are by far the most common, but very rarely did a green sea turtle make its way onto Gulf shores.
Not only was it a record season for the number of nests counted, but huge amount of false crawls — 1,663 times — were noted.
False crawls happen when sea turtles get discouraged from laying their eggs on beaches, whether it’s because of bright lights or loud noises.
Mote offered some do’s and don’t’s when it comes to encountering turtle nests. Do stay quiet; turn off outdoor lights or house lights visible from the beach; and fill in holes on the beach that baby turtles might otherwise fall into on their way to the water. Don’t touch baby turtles; use flashlights on the beach; encourage a nesting turtle to move; or use fireworks on the beach.