Turtle nesting season begins Monday
A new Longboat Key ordinance takes effect this year to protect turtles
Turtle nesting season officially begins May 1 but the turtle watchers are already combing the beach looking for any activity that may be a little early. These wonderful animals need our protection as the parents lay the eggs, the turtles trek to the sea and begin their journey of life in the seas. Government and private organizations are working hard to preserve this ritual of life’s beginnings. They are doing this through legislation, watch programs and public education programs.
In 2016, with the help of the Longboat Key Turtle Watch program, 1,184 nests with hatchlings were identified. Sarasota County accounts for the highest density of nesting turtles on the Gulf Coast of Florida. This watch group made up of volunteers is sanctioned by Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, responsible for marking nests so that visitors on the beach can enjoy their time there and understand the areas that should not be disturbed. This group patrols the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key each morning during the May 1 to October 31 official nesting season. They identified 578 of the total nesting areas last year.
All data on turtles in the county is collected by volunteers and staff at Mote Marine and the Coastal Wildlife Club. Another group, The Anna Maria Turtle Watch is made up of volunteers on that island. The information collected by all groups is sent to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
There are estimates that mature female Loggerhead Turtles at 25-30 years old lay approximately 100 eggs in each of four to seven nests over a two-week period. Last year the renourishment program returned over 500,000 cubic yards of white sand to the beaches of Longboat Key through dredging and daily truck hauls. Since nesting turtles return to the area of their start in life a major change to the nesting area presents another challenge.
You can help with some simple compliance with laws and beach maintenance, particularly during night time hours:
- Interior lamps should be moved away from windows.
- Do not use any lighting on the beach for fishing.
- No campfires or cars are allowed on the beach.
- Report any pets other than service animals that are on the beach.
- Fill in any holes dug into the sand and remove beach furniture by hand, equipment is not allowed during nesting season.
- It is recommended that beach furniture be stacked away from potential nesting areas if it cannot be removed. Turtles nest high on the beach to avoid high tides.
- Do not set furniture closer than five feet to a marked nest.
- Remove any plastic from the beach that can be ingested and ultimately deadly to turtles.
Any nesting disturbance or stranded turtles should be reported to Mote Marine at (941) 388-4331. A video on sea turtle protection can be found here. Turtle nests are marked by yellow caution tape attached to four stakes in the sand and marked with a yellow Sea Turtle Nest notification. Typically there are additional marks that include dates and the person responsible for the nest. Try to collect as much information as possible in your report to the Sea Turtle Program at Mote Marine.
This is the first year of a new Sea Turtle Protection Ordinance on Longboat Key that alters enforcement, lighting on the beach and removal of beach furniture at night when the hatchlings make their way from the beach to the sea. In the water they journey to a nearby seaweed line for food and shelter. Of those hatchlings only one of every 1,000 to 10,000 are expected to reach maturity. This law protects all nesting turtles, including the threatened Loggerhead and endangered Green turtles that nest here.
The new ordinance allows enforcement of protections on any night when in the past officers were only walking during moonlit nights. A number of restrictions on home lighting in the coastal areas were enacted, all to prevent disorientation of the turtles making their way to the sea. Beach furniture should be removed during the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 p.m. Temporary structures or furniture will either be tagged by law enforcement or removed from the beach.
A letter from Mote Marine to citizens in the affected coastal areas outlined some of the changes on artificial lighting that can deter nesting females and hatchlings from making their way to the water. If an home or public interior light can be seen from the beach the shades must be drawn or tinted with a light transmittance value of 45% or less. Special outdoor lighting can be used that are either red or amber in color. Do not use flash photography on the beach. You can request a lighting inspection of your beachfront residence before the law takes effect May 1 by calling Chris Elbon of code enforcement at (941) 316-1966, ext 277.
There is plenty of information available for residents of these affected areas. Educating yourself is helpful so that you can continue to enjoy the beach and help protect these creatures of the sea. Hotels also possess varying degrees of literature for their guests. If you have a guest staying in your residence or you know someone who is visiting you can also help by presenting them with this information. Your efforts will let them know that you are concerned about the environment of Longboat Key. It will help you, your guests and the turtles.