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24 Apr 2019
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Sanibel OutdoorsSanibel Wildlife

It’s that time of year again. Turtle nesting season.

This program was originally started by Caretta Research, Inc. and Charles Lebuff in the late 1950’s. This makes it one of the longest running monitoring programs in the country. The program was transferred to SCCF in 1992 when Caretta Research, Inc. was disbanded.

Each spring, late in the season, the sea turtles start to arrive. The SCCF Sea Turtle Program surveys 18 miles of beach from the Sanibel lighthouse to Blind Pass. SCCF has over 100 volunteers helping with the daily search for tracks left by the sea turtles. Each morning at about 6:30 a volunteer walks a section of beach looking for tracks left by turtles the night before. They are left by the turtles’ flippers. They are about 2 feet wide and look a little like tractor tire tracks.

Sometimes turtle arrive on the beach and for one reason or another they choose not to lay eggs. This is called a false crawl. If it is determined that she did lay her eggs, the nest is watched over until the eggs hatch and there are signs of hatchlings crawling to the Gulf.

When a nest is found SCCF place screens over the nest. This deters predators such as crabs, coyotes and birds to name a few. They are self-releasing screens, so they are large enough for the hatchlings to get out and make their long trek to the Gulf.

There are four species of sea turtles that nest here. The majority of them on Sanibel are loggerheads, followed closely by Greens. Less frequently we see leatherbacks and Kemp ridley’s. Adult loggerheads weigh about 250-350 lbs. and their shell is about 3 feetlong. Adult greens are more stream-lined and average about 350 lbs. and are 3 feet in length.

Sea turtles typically nest anytime between dust and dawn. They lay on average about 110 eggs in each nest, they can nest anywhere from 3-6 times per season. It is very hard to predict when a nest will hatch because incubation period depends on environmental factors such as sand temperature and moisture. Most will hatch between 45-65 days. Once she lays her eggs the mother does not come back to the nest, the hatchling use their instincts to guide them.

It is estimated that only 1 in 1,000 will make it to adulthood. Without conservation efforts this rate might be closer to 1 in 10,000. It takes about 30 years for a loggerhead to become reproductively active. They are estimated to live 60 + years.

There are several ways you can help keep our beaches sea turtle friendly:
• Turn off or shield all lights that are visible from the beach
• Do not use flashlights or cellphone lights on the beach, you can make or purchase ones that are tinted amber or red.
• Do not disturb the screens covering the nest, they are preventing predators from eating the eggs.
• Remove all beach furniture and equipment from the beach at night.
• Dispose of fishing line properly to avoid wildlife entanglement.
• Fill in all holes and knock down all sandcastles or mounds at the end of your beach day.
• Do not disturb nesting turtles –please do not get too close, shine lights on or take flash photos of nesting turtles.
• Pick up litter.

Call the SCCF hotline at 978-728-3663 (978-SAVE-ONE) if you see:
• A stranded turtle (including hatchlings).
• Dug up eggs, if you see a nest that has been tampered with, eggs exposed or washing away or daytime hatching.
• If you are concerned with lighting issues, beach furniture or holes.

If you’d like to visit Sanibel to see some of the Sea turtle nests, click here for one of our Sanibel Holiday specials.