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Southwest Florida’s Roller Coaster Turtle-Nesting Season

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It was a 12 months with a record-breaking variety of nests and a record-breaking variety of false crawls. It was also a 12 months with a particularly high variety of nests lost to storms, heat, and coyotes. The 2023 turtle nesting season ends Oct. 31, leaving turtle experts looking back on this roller coaster season on local beaches.

Bonita Beach was one in all the few areas that didn’t break a record for nests laid, but Eve Haverfield, founder and president of Turtle Time is definitely completely satisfied about that. “Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach were very low,” she explained. “Fort Myers Beach had loads of construction projects and Bonita Beach was a large number. It was only a nightmare. We are literally relieved that we didn’t have record numbers.”

Haverfield said Hurricane Ian left its mark on the local beaches, and that’s the reason she believes this season had lower nest numbers. She said the storm left Bonita Beach flatter than in past years, and meaning the water doesn’t drain as well. “It was very flat, and that just isn’t how Bonita Beach often is,” Haverfield explained.

She expects things to recuperate there. “Nature will heal itself,” she said. “Nature will herald sand. It’s going to get filled up again. It’s going to just take a while.”

Bonita Beach had 151 nests this 12 months, far fewer than the 283 laid last 12 months, but nowhere near as bad because the record low of twenty-two nests laid in 2005. Fort Myers Beach had 71 nests this 12 months, lower than the 109 last 12 months, but far more than the eight laid in 2007.

Lovers Key State Park had 37 nests, way down from the 120 last 12 months. Park officials say Hurricane Idalia washed out 19 of those nests and three others were killed by predators.

Haverfield thinks the mother turtles simply went a bit south to Collier County or north to Sanibel and Captiva which all had record-breaking nest numbers. They usually didn’t should travel too far. Just over the county line at Barefoot Beach in Bonita there was a record-breaking 255 nests, up from 225 last 12 months. Overall Collier County had a whopping 2,155 nests this 12 months, the primary time they’ve broken the two,000 barrier. Sanibel had a record-breaking 904 nests while Captiva set a brand new record of 299. While these records sound great, the storms, heat, and coyotes devastated so many nests, that the variety of hatchings actually reaching the Gulf is down from previous years. Collier County had about 1,588 nests hatch. On Captiva Island only nine percent of the nests were successful. On Sanibel, 29 percent hatched on the eastern end of the island and 34 percent on the west end. Turtle experts pinned the low hatch success on numerous problems.

“We had a record nesting 12 months, but not a record hatching 12 months,” said Maura Kraus, Principal Environmental Specialist for Collier County. “Idalia got here on the incorrect time. We still had nests on the beach. Idalia got here during August on a full moon high tide, so Idalia really screwed us up.”

While Ian was a much worse storm last 12 months, it happened at the top of September when a lot of the nests already hatched. Idalia was in August when so many nests were still on the beach. Kraus also blames Hurricane Ian for this 12 months’s hurdles. State law often prohibits construction on beaches during turtle nesting season, but under the chief emergency order following Hurricane Ian, work was allowed on the beaches year-round. That meant pipes and construction equipment often blocked a mother turtle’s path. Then there have been the coyotes.

“After Ian the coyotes just got here in,” Kraus said.

Keewaydin Island had an enormous coyote problem.“We did have a big coyote problem on the market,” said Kathy Worley, Director of Environmental Science and a biologist for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “The coyotes would actually hit loads of the nests, and we were recaging loads of them to forestall further predation.”

Worley said years ago they’d coyotes on the island, but they’ve not had an issue with them in recent times until now. “Before this 12 months our major predators were raccoons and hogs, and this 12 months it was mostly coyotes,” Worley said.

Marco Island saw coyotes for the primary time. “We now have never had an issue with coyotes on Marco, ever,” Kraus said.

Still, Kraus is happy with the high variety of nests. “We now have been doing this for over 30 years, and it takes 30 years for the turtles to succeed in maturity,” she explained. “We’re seeing the outcomes of individuals’s compliance and helping. It’s all the efforts. There was a high variety of nests across the state of Florida.”

Kelly Sloan, wildlife director, and sea turtle program coordinator for the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, agreed it was exciting to see so many nests and devastating to see so few hatchlings.

“It was an incredible sight on the market,” Sloan said in regards to the variety of nests. “Our volunteers leave a bit before sunrise during peak season, they usually weren’t getting back until after 4 p.m. We now have to mark, screen, and collect the information.”

Then got here the sad part. “It was not a superb 12 months for hatchings especially on Captiva,” she said. “Our coyote predation rate was up this 12 months. It was a very hot summer, and I feel that had an impact on our hatches. And we had some washover on the nests.”

Sloan said when the sand gets above 33 Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit) the embryos die since it is simply too hot, and she or he believes that happened with a few of the nests, “The coyotes learned to dig across the screens this 12 months, so now now we have to dig a trench across the nest and put the screen in it which may be very labor-intensive,” Sloan continued. “Hopefully, we don’t should do it again next 12 months.”

Yet Sloan remains to be optimistic because the variety of nests is so high. “One big 12 months doesn’t mean that the population is recovering, but in Southwest Florida, the trend does show it’s increasing, and that could be attributed to many years of conservation,” she concluded.

All of the beaches in Southwest Florida had extremely high numbers of false crawls. Turtle experts imagine a mix of berms formed from storms and construction equipment on the beaches led to those record numbers. For instance, there have been 268 false crawls on Bonita Beach, 200 on Fort Myers Beach, 206 on Barefoot Beach, and 264 on Vanderbilt Beach. There have been also many disorientations because of all the pieces from construction material to lights. Haverfield said the dearth of beach vegetation and the loss of homes that used to dam street lights led to disorientations. In south Lee County and northern Collier County, there have been eight on Bonita Beach, 17 on Fort Myers Beach, 21 on Barefoot Beach, and large 71 on Vanderbilt Beach.

Because the season ends, turtle experts are putting a positive spin on the season. While Bonita and Fort Myers Beach didn’t break nest numbers, they did have the best percentage of hatchlings. On Bonita Beach 83 percent of the nests hatched, and 81 percent were successful on Fort Myers Beach. “That hatch rate was incredible,” Haverfield said. “Next 12 months will probably be higher.”

More Bonita Bay Club wins appeal: Can create workforce housing in former sales center And Hurricane Ian – One 12 months later: Recent normal – 40-unit complex has only three families

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