Sea Turtles in Volusia and Flagler Counties

Sea turtle nesting season in Flagler and Volusia Counties spans from May 1 to October 31.  As we start to see more nests marked off on the beach, your best bet will be that they belong to a loggerhead sea turtle. Florida is the epicenter of loggerhead nesting grounds and loggerheads are the most common species in our state. Last year Flagler County beaches saw 508 loggerhead nests, followed by 124 green turtles and 1 leatherback nest.  Volusia county, with a longer coastline, hosted 2,302 loggerhead nests, 1,781 green turtle nests, and 12 leatherback nests.  You can find more information about these three species of sea turtles in the table at the end of this blog post.

These nests were located by the hard-working volunteers at multiple organizations, as well as national park staff.  The Volusia/Flagler Turtle Patrol survey the coastline of Flagler County and Volusia County north of Ponce Inlet each morning looking for turtle tracks and nests. Volunteers collect information about the nest to provide to the FWC and mark the nest so that it can be monitored and to prevent visitors to the beach from accidentally disturbing it.  Down in New Smyrna Beach, the NSB Turtle Trackers do the same surveys, data recording, and monitoring of nests throughout the season.  The most southern portion of Volusia County beaches lie within the Canaveral National Seashore, where the park rangers survey the nests.

Photo credit UF/IFAS

Later this summer, approximately two months after a nest is laid, around 100 hatchings will emerge from a nest at night and head out to sea, following the reflection of the moon. These tiny turtles must make it past many hungry predators on the beach and at sea until they can reach a natural refuge, the floating mats of the sargassum seaweed. Due to a combination of natural and human-related threats, sea turtle hatchlings only have an estimated 1 in 1,000 chance of survival to adulthood!

There are many more threats that sea turtles face throughout their life cycle that can affect the populations as a whole.  Thankfully there are also actions we can take to ensure females are able to safely nest without disturbance and that their hatchlings have the highest chance of survival possible!

Threats to sea turtles, and what we can do to help protect them

Threat: Human disturbance

Such as physical obstacles, artificial lighting or activity on the beaches at night

What we can do:

Help keep the beach free of obstacles by filling in any holes and flattening out sandcastles after a day at the beach with the family and be sure to remove all beach toys and furniture at night. This ensures mothers and babies can safely travel across the beach.

Don’t use white lights on the beaches at night and if you come across a nesting turtle give her space, as a disturbed mother may leave the beach without laying eggs. If you walk on the beach at night, use a red LED light rather than a white light. Keeping lights off at the beaches continues to be important when the babies begin to hatch, so that they do not get disoriented and travel in the wrong direction. If you live near the beach, check out this beachfront lighting information to ensure your lights are not affecting nesting or hatching sea turtles.

 

Threat:  Habitat loss

Due to development and coastal erosion decreases nesting areas.

What we can do:

Support local, state, and national parks that provide natural areas for sea turtles to nest.  Protect the sand dunes by using designated walkways and not walking through the dunes.

 

Threat: Plastic pollution

Plastic waste that makes it into the ocean becomes covered in small marine organisms and can then smell and look like food to sea turtles. Over 50% of sea turtles worldwide are believed to have eaten plastic, which can lead to health issues and starvation. Turtles can also become entangled in discarded fishing gear.

Refuse single-use plastic and find options you can reuse!

What we can do:

Take all of your trash with you and pick up trash on the beach you see on the beach.  Dispose of fishing line properly (look for the fishing line recycling tube at your nearest fishing dock!).  Reduce your use of single-use plastics by building habits of carrying a reusable water bottle and shopping bags with you on a daily basis.  Support companies that provide alternatives to plastic and initiatives to reduce single-use plastic in your community.

 

Threat:  A changing climate

Warmer temperatures may affect the sex ratios of sea turtle populations, as the temperature of the nest determines if sea turtles develop as males or females.  In the long term this could affect sea turtle reproduction and population size.  Sea level rise and an increase in the number of intense hurricanes due to a changing climate can flood or wash away nests and decrease the amount of suitable nesting beach area.

What we can do:

Reduce our use of fossil fuels such as oil and gas.  We can do this by both reducing our overall energy use and by utilizing renewable sources of energy.  This is a big undertaking that we need to tackle as a community.  Thankfully, innovations in technology are making alternative energy more accessible, and some energy companies will let you choose to use renewable energy sources for your home.  Another important step we can all take it to make sure we understand the science of climate change and discuss it with our family and friends so that it becomes a less taboo and politicized topic.

 

A rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtle returns to the ocean while bystanders watch from a respectable distance. Photo by Tyler Jones.

What should I do if I see a sea turtle on the beach?

If you see sea turtles nesting or hatching, enjoy their beauty with plenty of space between you and the turtles and do not touch them.  If you think they are injured or there are hatchings that ended up in the wrong place, notify the local Beach Safety officer or Call Florida Fish and Wildlife  888-404-3922

Good news for sea turtles!

Loggerhead nests at Index sites in peninsular Florida

The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Index Nesting Beach Survey documented an increase in nests of all three sea turtle species since it started in 1989.  This survey focuses on specific beaches to provide consistent data over years and documents the number of nests as an indicator of the population size.  Loggerhead nests have only increased slightly since 1989, but they were already at a higher population to start. In comparison, green turtle nests have increased 80x and leatherback nests have increased dramatically as well.

This is great news, demonstrating the actions we have taken to protect sea turtles through changes in fishing gear, international agreements prohibiting the trade of sea turtle products and eggs, and protection and monitoring of nests and nesting beaches have been working!  While population have made great improvements in recent decades, they are still at a fraction of their original population size.  Therefore, it is important that we continue to educate residents and visitors to beaches of the role they play in sea turtle survival so that these trends continue in a positive direction!

Green sea turtle nests at Index site beaches
Leatherback nests at Index site beaches

Would you like to see a sea turtle in person or get involved as a volunteer?

We have several organizations in both Flagler and Volusia Counties that you can check out!

A marked nest in New Smyrna Beach

Volusia:

  • Canaveral National Seashore provides a rare opportunity to see a sea turtle nesting through its Turtle Watch programs on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights during the nesting season.  Find more information on their website and call (386) 428-3384 ext. 248 to make a reservation.
  • The Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet is a great place to learn about sea turtles and see the patients in their rehabilitation center.
  • Support the NSB Turtle Trackers or the Volusia/Flagler Turtle Patrol by “adopting a nest” or volunteering as a surveyor or at beach cleanups.
  • Volusia county has many resources with information for you, including my favorite, the nesting summary.

 

Flagler:

  • Volunteer as a surveyor or “adopt a nest” with the Volusia/Flagler Turtle Patrol.
  • The Sea Turtle Hospital at the UF Whitney Lab is home to a rehabilitation facility and research on Fibropapilloma virus. Visit the website for information on how to volunteer and keep an eye out for educational opportunities.
  • Marineland houses several sea turtles that could not be released to the wild following injury and can be viewed by the public.

 

Sea turtle curriculum available:

If you work in education, have kids in the home, or are just a kid at heart, I recommend the 5th grade sea turtle curriculum created by Dr. Maia McGuire of Sea Grant and UF/IFAS Extension.  There are ten lesson plans available, as well as the PDF of the book One in a Thousand: Those Amazing Sea Turtles.

 

Summary of information on our most common sea turtle species 

Common name Loggerhead Green Leatherback 
Scientific name Caretta caretta  Chelonia mydas  Dermochelys coriacea 
Volusia nests in 2021 2,302 1,781 12
Flagler nests in 2021 508 124 1
Nests all of FL 2021 96,666 32,680 1,390
Status Threatened Threatened Endangered 
Carapace length 2.5-3.5 feet 3-4 feet   4-6 feet 
Weight 150-375 lbs  240-420 lbs  660-1,100 lbs 

(biggest was 2,000!) 

What they eat  Shellfish (horseshoe crabs, clams, mussels)  Seagrass and algae  Jellyfish 
Where they live  Shallow water along the continental shelf; bays and estuaries  Bays and protected shores   Open ocean, worldwide 
Nesting in Florida  Nest April-September 

Nest every 2-4 years 

3-6 nests per season 

100-125 eggs per nest

60 days incubation 

Nest June-September

Nest every 2 years

3-5 nests per season

115 eggs per nest

60 days incubation 

Nest April-July 

Nest every 2-3 years

4-7 times per season

80 fertilized eggs 

65 day incubation 

Threats to survival  Loss of nesting habitat, predation of nests, human disturbances Commercial harvest for eggs and food  Marine pollution, incidental take in fisheries 
Population estimate of nesting females worldwide in 2004 40,000-50,000  85,000-95,000  34,000-36,000 

Sources:

www.conserveturtles.org 

https://myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/statewide/

 

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Posted: June 17, 2022


Category: Coasts & Marine, Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension, , Wildlife
Tags: Beach, Florida Sea Grant, Sea Turtles


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