Sea turtles start nesting

The first sea turtle nest of the season on Longboat Key was found behind Sand Cay on April 28.

Mote Marine Laboratory documented the first local sea turtle nest of the year Saturday, April 25, on Siesta Key and the second nest today, April 27, in Venice. Mote will soon begin its 34th year monitoring nesting along 35 miles of local beaches.

The nests arrived before the official start of nesting season, which runs from May 1 – Oct. 31. Throughout nesting season, Mote scientists, interns and more than 300 volunteers in Mote’s Sea Turtle Patrol document nesting every day from Longboat Key through Venice.

Both nests were laid by loggerhead sea turtles. Loggerheads, considered threatened under federal law, are the most common species on local beaches, followed by endangered green sea turtles. In recent years, Sarasota County has also hosted a handful of endangered Kemp’s ridleys, among the smallest and rarest sea turtles.

If you find a nest that you believe has not been documented, call Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program at 941-388-4331.

“We were hearing reports of nests along other parts of our coast last week, so we knew it might be just a short time before our turtle ‘girls’ officially started their season,” said Kristen Mazzarella, senior biologist with Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program. “We have our fingers crossed for another strong year like 2014, with a high number of nests and a low incidence of storms, so nests are less likely to be washed out.”

This year, Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program will continue its long-term studies of local sea turtles by documenting every sea turtle nest and false crawl (when a turtle emerges but does not leave a nest) in Mote’s patrol area, marking each nest with yellow stakes and flagging tape and collecting scientific data about each nest when it is found. Mote will also collect detailed scientific data on a representative sample of nests through their hatch, allowing us to document local trends in nest success as part of the sea turtle conservation and research mission Mote has carried out for more than three decades.

“We have a 33-year database of consistent information, which is important not only for understanding nesting-related trends here, but also for contributing to the big picture statewide,” Mazzarella said. “We share our data with state wildlife managers and with others who are looking for independent scientific information about these animals, and we consider public education very important. Sea turtles are endangered and threatened species that have been nesting here for millions of years; we want people to know they’re here and understand how to protect them.”

Mote research has shown that loggerhead sea turtle nest numbers have increased locally in recent years. After reaching a low point of 735 nests in 2007, loggerhead nesting in Mote’s patrol area broke records with 2,469 nests in 2012, then had a near-record year of 2,461 in 2014. Florida’s loggerhead sea turtle nesting seems to be varying over decade-long cycles of increase and decrease in Florida. Continuing to gather local nesting data is vital for documenting population trends in sea turtles — long lived species that can take 30 years to mature.

During this time of increased local nesting, it is critically important that the public supports sea turtle research and conservation. The public can help Mote, a nonprofit, carry out this mission by donating online at www.mote.org/support. Select “donate” and choose “Sea Turtle Conservation” from the drop-down box.

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Longboat Key News

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