Sea turtle nests are hatching

Sea turtle nests are hatching
A baby loggerhead sea turtle makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico minutes after hatching. - Amy Waterbury | AMITW

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Plenty of little flipper tracks are on the beach and lots more are on the way as the first loggerhead sea turtle nests of the season begin to hatch.

At least 21 nests have hatched this month, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring (AMITW) volunteers.

“After a nest hatches, we must wait for three days and then we excavate to collect data, which is sent to FWC (the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission),” AMITW’s Barbara Riskay said. “The first nest excavated on July 10 resulted in 74 hatched eggs.”

As of July 16, 10 nests have been excavated, showing that 809 hatchlings have made it to the Gulf of Mexico, she said. While this is a substantial number, it is necessary for female turtles to lay plenty of eggs because only about one in 1,000 turtle hatchlings will make it to adulthood. 

While more than 1,050 nests have been laid on the Island so far this season, turtle season continues until Oct. 31, so there will be thousands more hatchlings to come.

The most common turtle to nest on the Island is the loggerhead. Named for its massive, block-like head, the loggerhead is Florida’s most common sea turtle. Adults weigh 275 pounds on average with a shell about a yard long. The shell, ruddy brown on top and creamy yellow underneath, is very broad near the head and tapers toward the tail. Each of the turtle’s flippers has two claws.

According to the FWC, the main threat that loggerhead turtles face is accidental capture in shrimp and fishing nets such as longlines, which can entangle or snag sea turtles, and finfish trawls, beach seines, drift and gill nets. When captured in these nets, the turtles cannot escape and eventually drown.

The development of nesting beaches is also a threat to sea turtles, as their nests can be destroyed, and available nesting sites are limited. Beach armoring, such as building seawalls, is a threat, as the structures prevent the natural maintenance of beaches and sand dunes.

Coastal development also increases artificial lighting which can be detrimental to hatchlings, causing them to migrate toward the artificial light instead of the natural light they use to find the ocean.

Increased predation on nests from raccoons is also a significant threat to nesting sea turtles.

Other threats include exploitation for meat and eggs in some countries, habitat degradation from contaminants and pollutants and boat strikes.