The Gulf waters are warming, providing a solid indication that it is time for the annual mating and nesting ritual of sea turtles.
Last year, loggerhead tracks were found on the Estero Island beachfront during an early morning patrol on April 29, two days before the official start of sea turtle season, which runs from May 1 through Oct. 31.
This year, Turtle Time founder Eve Haverfield is ready for another banner year after 65 nests were recorded last season (although 47 percent of the hatchlings were "lost" due to tropical storms and disorientations).
It Turtle Time again. Get caught up on rules and regulations from May 1 through October 31.
She urges Beach residents, businesses and rental companies who have property on the beachfront to prepare for sea turtle conservation by shielding lights, pulling curtains shut and replacing outdoor light bulbs with approved amber LED lights.
If lights are not shielded or amber LEDs are not used, sea turtles will become distracted and move toward the artificial light instead of the natural light of the moon to steer them back to the Gulf.
"Amber LED lights last about 10,000 hours, and they have come down on price," Haverfield said. "It's a warm, soft light that provides ample illumination and is turtle friendly. They are well worth the money."
To find such certified lighting, go to www.myfwc.com/seaturtles.
Conservationalists say outdoor lighting should have the lowest possible lumens. You can also shield a light source low to the ground or utilizing long wavelength light sources for less disruption.
"Keep it low, keep it shielded and keep it long," said Haverfield.
Moving beach furniture or any other obstructions into dwellings or behind the dune line on property before nightfall is also advised. If left on the beachfront, chairs, umbrellas, tents, toys and other objects might impede, tangle and harm sea turtles looking for nesting spots.
These measures go along way to ensure sea turtle safety.
Haverfield and Town Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen are emphatic about the rules and regulations. Each year, both take a community approach to educating the public about turtle-friendly behavior, including letting everyone in the community know of businesses that have gone above-and-beyond to help sea turtles survive and recover. The following businesses should be applauded for their efforts: Eden House; Neptune Inn; Chuck's Last Stop for his parking lot lights; Carousel Inn; Lee County Parks and Recreation (for proper lighting at Bowditch Point park, Lynn Hall Park and Crescent Beach Park); VIP Realtors; Distinctive Beach Rentals, Sun Palace Vacations and Bay Pointe Property Management.
"These businesses have either installed amber LEDs or low pressure sodium light, shielded their lights or have informed their residents and guests that turtle-friendly lighting and behavior is a must on our beaches," said Haverfield.
Last year, Bay Pointe Property Management was brought to a hearing for a sea turtle lighting issue with a determination of "no finding of fact for violation." Officials there were ordered to put together an educational program on sea turtle lighting issues for other rental agencies as well as make a donation to Turtle Time and pay a combined prosecutorial fee.
Town of Fort Myers Beach letters have been sent out to residents and businesses about the upcoming season already.
"No one can plead ignorance. People know," said Haverfield.
Turtle Time volunteers will officially begin monitoring the beaches on Sunday, April 28. Town code compliance officers will conduct night patrols soon after.
Once found, a sea turtle nest will be roped off and information will be added to the staked-off area. So, do not disturb. Florida Law Chapter 379.2431 (1) protects sea turtles during the six-month sea turtle season.
Turtle Time monitored beaches
Besides Fort Myers Beach, Turtle Time monitors Big Hickory Island, Bonita Beach and Bunche Beach. In 2012, 203 nests at those four beaches were monitored.
Female species of Loggerheads, Kemp's ridleys, Greens, Hawksbills and Leatherbacks will begin to swim ashore to nest on dunes and lay between 100-120 eggs following their annual mating custom 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.
"Last year was the highest number of nests for us since 1996," said Haverfield. "In all of Florida, there were 98,601 Loggerhead nests. Since 1998, we have had a drastic decline in Loggerhead nests. But now, the fact that we have adult turtles out there in reproductive age is very encouraging. We are looking forward to see what happens this year."
Conservation efforts and education have helped.
"We have to make up for lost time," said Haverfield.
Sea turtle functions
According to Havefield, each species has a specific function in the ecology of the oceans.
- Leatherbacks' entire diet consists of jellyfish, which eats fish eggs. Without leatherbacks, there would be an overabundance of jellyfish, which affects our fishing industry in a negative way.
- Loggerheads are called "bulldozers" because they keep the sentiment from becoming compacted and eat conch. While crushing the conch, they provide smaller chunks of food for other species.
- Greens are the "farmers" of the ocean. They eat the turtle grasses (much like trimming a lawn), and that trimming helps water flow.
- Hawksbills keep the corals healthy by eating algae. Fish hide in the coral and lay their eggs there as well.
- Kemp's ridleys keep the crab population balanced
Who to reach
To report sea turtle tracks and disorientations (lost sea turtles), or to request additional educational material, or ask questions about sea turtle season, go to www.turtletime.org or call 481-5566. For code enforcement issues, contact Town Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen at 765-0202 (ext. 136).