May 20, 2015
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Research Reserve) Marine Turtle Patrol volunteers have spotted the first loggerhead sea turtle nest of the nesting season, which runs from May to September.
The Marine Turtle Patrol program is a volunteer-based effort for monitoring and evaluating sea turtle nests on the GTM Research Reserve’s beach. In April, volunteers began monitoring and evaluating sea turtle nests seven days a week. Volunteers also educate the community about sea turtles and the patrol program through interactions with beachgoers and the reserve’s educational lecture series.
“Our Marine Turtle Patrol volunteers are very dedicated,” said Shannon Rininger, volunteer coordinator at the GTM Research Reserve. “Some drive long distances and arrive before the sun is up to prepare for their morning patrol.”
The Marine Turtle Patrol begins at dawn each morning, traversing the almost 8 miles of reserve beach looking for new turtle crawls. When a new crawl is located, the patrol team determines if it’s a nest or a false crawl, which is when nesting turtles come onto the beach but do not lay eggs. Nest locations are documented with a GPS reading and then staked and ribboned off to protect the section from surface disturbance. The nest is numbered, and a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sign is placed at the site, informing individuals that those who disturb the nest are subject to fines and imprisonment according to Florida Law Chapter 370 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
An average marine turtle nest contains between 80 and 120 eggs. If incubation goes well with little to no predation or overwashing, hatchlings will emerge 50 to 60 days later. Three to five days after the hatching, the patrol returns to the nest to determine its success rate: how many eggs hatched or did not and the status of any remaining hatchlings. If found early enough in the morning, any remaining hatchlings will be released on the beach to find their way to the water. This action helps the turtles imprint on their natal beach, where they will return in about 30 years to nest on their own.
Loggerhead turtles are considered an endangered species and are the largest of all hard-shelled turtles, with characteristic large heads, strong jaws and a reddish-brown shell or carapace. During the three months that a female loggerhead breeds, she will travel hundreds of miles to nest, lay more than 35 pounds of eggs and swim back to her home foraging area, all without a significant meal.
During sea turtle nesting season, the public is encouraged to avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and remain clear of all marked sea turtle nests. Beachgoers are encouraged to flatten sandcastles, fill in any holes dug in the sand and take all personal items such as chairs or toys when leaving the beach. These items can become obstacles to nesting turtles and could cause them to abort their nesting attempt or could cause the turtle to become entangled. Residences on or near the beach must adhere to a “lights off” policy for beach-facing lights or use special fixtures to shield the lights from the beach after 9 p.m. Artificial lighting can deter females from nesting or cause emerging hatchlings to become disoriented, risking desiccation and death.
For more information about volunteering for the Marine Turtle Patrol program, click here or contact Shannon Rininger, volunteer coordinator at 904-823-4500.