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Halftime report mixed for sea turtle season

August 1, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Sea turtle season reached the halfway point today. Mixed reviews during the first half involve both frustration and hope for the second half.

Turtle Time founder Eve Haverfield reported some positive news amid the negatives relating to Tropical Storm Debbie some five weeks ago.

Among the statistics for Fort Myers Beach is a whopping 64 nests thus far, but only three that have hatched to go with 86 false crawls. Compare that with Bonita Beach, where 24 nests have hatched out of an eye-popping 110 nests and 194 false crawls.

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A tangled Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle was one of three found dead in beach furniture recently. The poor creature took the chair out to sea and drowned.

"That's beach characteristics right there," said Haverfield about the different contours of both beachfronts.

Last year at this time, the Beach had 27 nests (three of which hatched) and 25 false crawls, while Bonita Beach had 53 nests (15 of which hatched) and 51 false crawls. The last nest to be built on Estero Island last year was on Aug. 3, and Aug. 5 for Bonita Beach.

"It'll be interested to see when our last nest is this year," said Haverfield. "At this time in 2010, Fort Myers Beach had 23 nests, 20 false crawls and two hatches. Our hatch rate is roughly the same the past few years at this time."

Tropical Storm Debbie put a damper on a great nest start and prognosis on the Beach. Many nests were either washed away or damaged to a point that hatching production seemed unlikely. The damaged ones were relocated, but their production rate has yet to be determined.

"The whole focus is the nest numbers this year. We'll just have to wait and see," said Haverfield. "Even the ones we had way, way back, I'm afraid the water table might have gotten to them."

Some nests were reported to be at or above the hatching time without any production thus far. One or two nests at Bowditch Point Park stand at 68 days, while the average hatching rate is 55 to 70 days.

"We cannot evaluate nests until 70 days. Even my most promising ones up by the seawall (just south of mid-island) haven't hatched yet. It's 65 days for them, so that doesn't worry me just yet," said Haverfield.

While some Beach nests may have survived the tropical storm (production or not), some good news has occurred since those three days in late June. Haverfield reports 18 new nests have been built by female sea turtles in the four- to five-week span.

"There were years where we had less than that for the whole season," she said. "So, I'm eternally optimistic."

All in all, 64 nests at this stage or even recorded within a full season is something Haverfield hasn't witnessed during her long career of sea turtle monitoring. The most she has counted is 61 nests in 1998.

"The most encouraging news about all of this is that we had adults coming ashore and produce a really, spectacular number of nests. I've never documented 64 nests on Fort Myers Beach," she said.

After another good showing in 2000, the cyclical pattern of sea turtle nesting took a downward spiral.

"From then on, Loggerhead nests numbers drastically declined statewide," said Haverfield. "It may take another 10 to 12 years to determine if we are on the upward trend again."

Sea turtles found dead in beach furniture

Haverfield has reported three Kemp's Ridley sea turtle have recently been found washed ashore and dead within beach chairs and one more deceased due to wrapped in monofilament line and strangled.

"It's something that could have been prevented. It just galls me," she said. "We have both state and local laws in place that say that at night you must remove your beach furniture and place them by the building or behind dune vegetation."

Chairs must be secured as well to prevent an outgoing tide or a trespasser from taking them.

"It's the responsibility of the business or property owner to secure their beach furniture," said Haverfield. "Turtles get tangled up in those. They cannot reverse, so they keep crawling into the water, wearing the chair and drown because they are air-breathing animals."

The act constitutes harassment, says the Turtle Lady.

"These dead turtles are a tremendous loss to our population. especially when only one to four our of 1,000 hatchlings survive to lay eggs when they mature. Having these marine debris incidents is a travesty. Leaving beach furniture on the beach during sea turtle nesting season can be construed as harassment."



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