Here come the sea turtles. Make way for the female species of Loggerheads, Kemp's Ridleys, Greens, Hawksbills and Leatherbacks as they begin to swim ashore to nest on dunes and lay between 100-120 eggs after their annual mating ritual in Gulf waters. After the eggs incubate for roughly two months and hatch, the two-inch infants slowly make their way back to the Gulf.
From this Saturday (May 1) until October 31, residents and visitors of Fort Myers Beach must nightly help the process by turning off or shield any inappropriate lighting, pulling window drapes down if you live beachside and place all outdoor furniture, toys and tents behind beach vegetation.
Other cautions include avoiding the use of flashlights, lanterns or flash photography while on the beach at night and removing all trash and beach items when you do leave the beach. Remember, touching or disturbing nesting sea turtles, hatchlings or their nests is illegal. Sea turtles are protected by State and Federal Laws.
A hatchling looks for the light of the Gulf waters. Hopefully, he doesn’t get distracted by inappropriate lighting from Beach dwellers.
"We really need to do a cooperative effort because of the plummeting numbers of sea turtles," said Eve Haverfield, founder of Turtle Time. "We need to have a sense of responsibility to perpetuate the species. There is responsibility involved in enjoying and living along the beach."
An unseasonably cold stretch that blew into Southwest Florida this winter should not affect the 2010 turtle nesting season, according to Haverfield.
"It may postpone the start, but the code still kicks in May 1," she said. "No one can rake before the beach is monitored. They all know that."
Ever anxious to find the first nest of the season, Turtle Time volunteers began walking Fort Myers Beach this past Sunday.
"Our volunteers were out there to educate people and tell them May 1 is the start of turtle nesting season," said Haverfield, who has been monitoring turtles for 31 years. "We've always done that. If we're not out there, how can we find the first nest?"
Last year, Fort Myers Beach recorded only 11 turtle nests after a banner 2008 season which saw 44 nests. The highest amount of nests recorded since Turtle Time's inception in 1989 is 61 in 1998. Since then, Estero Island as well as other Gulf coastal towns in the state have managed cyclical seasons.
"Fort Myers Beach reflects the trend," said Haverfield about Florida's nesting cycle.
The so-called turtle lady would like to see the Town of Fort Myers Beach mirror the same lighting procedures at Times Square as Lee County did at Bowditch Pointe Park. The grant-aided project at the north-end park in February replaced light shields (uses existing poles and supports) and traditional light bulbs with amber-colored LED lights. It also offered the advantage of cutting energy costs.
"I think the county is setting a fantastic precedence," said Haverfield. "Those lights are so turtle friendly and on the leading edge of technology. LEDs spread light and are not illuminating the tops of the trees. I do not understand why the tops of trees have to be illuminated at 3 a.m. I would expect the Town to want to be in compliance to set a good example."
Haverfield says Turtle Time has educational materials for any business who would like to learn more about turtle nesting.
"We'd be more than happy to bring it by," she said. "We're looking forward to a cooperative season and team effort with everyone on the Beach to help this species which shares the beach."
For conservation materials, questions regarding sea turtles or to report a nest or crawl, contact Haverfield at 481-5566. If anybody would like information in terms of lighting and/or code enforcement, contact Town Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen at 765-0202.
In addition to monitoring sea turtles, Turtle Time will be participating in the state's effort to document live horseshoe crab sightings. The study is essential due to eggs of the horseshoe crab being part of the diet of the Red Knots, a migratory bird nearing extinction.