A loggerhead hatchling scurries to the Gulf of Mexico this season on Bonita Beach. / Andrea Stetson/Special to news-press.com
(News-Press.com) - Turtles are having a healthy, abundant season on beaches around Florida, but scientists and wildlife officials are unsure why one species, the green turtle, is nesting at near record-breaking numbers, especially on Sanibel and Captiva.
"The main story so far this year has been the number of Atlantic green turtle nests," said Scott Eastman, biological Scientist II for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. "Our numbers are approaching the highest number documented on our beaches since surveys were initiated in 1987, but the word we are hearing is that we are set to surpass the annual record in nest counts statewide ... by a large margin."
Sea turtle season began May 1 and runs through Oct. 31.
Historically, most of the nests laid on local beaches are loggerheads, although there have been green turtles in the past. Of the 577 nests on Sanibel and Captiva, 22 of them are green turtles. The previous record for green turtle nests on the two islands was 8.
"We have more greens than we have ever recorded," said Amanda Bryant, who monitors turtles for the Sanibel/Captiva Conservation Foundation. "It's more by a lot. It's one of those seasons where I keep shaking my head."
Overall, it's the second-highest turtle nest count on record this year at Florida's three National Estuarine Research Reserves. Researchers at National Estuarine Research Reserves in Naples, Apalachicola and Ponte Verda Beach say only 2011 had more nests.
"This year's nesting activity is higher than last year," said Pam King Phillips, external affairs administrator for Florida coastal office of the Department of Environmental Protection. "There are 461 documented nests in 2013 compared to 427 in 2012."
The numbers are higher than usual at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Collier County.
"We do have more nests especially in the 10,000 Islands," said Renee Wilson, a spokeswoman for Rookery Bay. Last year there were 87 nests in that area, and this year there are 126.
In Collier County, 1,072 nests have been recorded. That is down from the 1,259 last year, but is the second-highest number since the 1990s. Collier is also boasting one of the highest numbers in hatched nests. The lack of storms this year means more successfully hatched nests this year than in almost two decades.
"Way back when we have had some better years," said Maura Kraus, senior environmental specialist Collier County Department of Natural Resources. "The hatching is going great this year."
The 98 nests on Bonita Beach are the third-highest since 2000. Only 2012 with 122 nests and 2000 with 105 nests were higher.
"It's not the second-highest total nests, but it's really good," said Eve Haverfield, president and founder of Turtle Time. "We expected this year to follow 2011, but we surpassed that. We are not as high as last year but we are high."
Haverfield said the lack of storms is also making this a good summer for hatchings. Half of the 98 nests in Bonita have already hatched.
Fort Myers Beach has 45 nests, which is lower than last year, but higher than other years this past decade.
"We have no idea why this year is so good, but it seems to be a trend in general that nesting years have been good the last 2-3 years overall statewide," King Phillips said.