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Sea turtle nests escape storm damage

June 12, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Heavy rain, rising tides and extreme windy conditions from Tropical Storm Andrea did not put up much of a damaging threat to the sea turtle nests along Fort Myers Beach, according to Turtle Time founder Eve Haverfield.

Although three nests were washed over during Thursday's storm activity, they were not washed out nor left in standing water. As of Tuesday, the Beach has 16 nests, including two that were built since the storm.

"I am going to assume, judging from past experiences, that those nests will be OK. We'll know come hatching time whether or not those nests will have been affected," said Haverfield. "Overall, we fared well. No nests were exposed from the storm, no nests were under water, no stakes were lost.

Article Photos

The tracks in the sand are images of harassment of a sea turtle.The US Endangered Species Act of 1973 specifically states that ”No person may take, harass, harm, etc., any marine turtle, turtle nest and/or eggs…” That includes use of flashlights and flash photography.

The so-called "turtle lady" complimented the prehistoric creatures on their nesting locations. Much of the current nests, like the first nest of the season near the Sterling Avenue beach access, were high and dry.

"For the most part, our turtles are nesting up by the dunes or in the dunes, which not only protect upland structures but turtle nests," she said.

Normal hatching times for sea turtle hatchlings is 55 to 60 days after the eggs were laid. State laws allow nests to be excavated at the 70-day mark in case of no activity at that time.

The relative quarterly report of the six-month sea turtle season that began on May 1 and ends Oct. 31 has been positive thus far. Haverfield stated the cyclical process is mirroring the season of two years ago.

"We seem to be aligning ourselves with 2011," she said. "Nesting turtles skip a year. We had 48 nests overall in 2011."

The 2012 season was a banner year for nests, but many were washed out due to Tropical Storm Debby and Isaac.

"It was a fun year with the number of nests, but the nest results were not excellent because of a natural effect," said Haverfield. "What was fun was learning that we had a good stock of adult turtles out there. For a 10- to 12-year span of time, we were not even getting a minimal number of nests. We were questioning if turtles actually died from diseases. Last year at this time we had close to 30 nests. Hopefully this is a result of conservation efforts that began 30 some years ago."

The 2013 season began slow with the first nest reported in the fourth week of May. But, things have been steady since.

Unfortunately, there have been a reported 28 false crawls scattered about the beachfront of the seven-mile island. False crawls involve female sea turtles that make their way onto the beachfront to nest only to be dissuaded back into Gulf waters. Human interference, which is a state law offense, creates some of the false crawls.

"We need to let turtles nest. They are coming ashore to their birth place and are being interfered with," said Haverfield. "If people encounter a turtle on the beach at night, it is illegal for them to approach the sea turtles or photograph them with flash photography. People have to stay way back and not interfere with what the turtle is doing. It is very difficult for an animal that is working against gravity to even come ashore much less be forced to crawl in circles. Clearly, this has been happening on Fort Myers Beach."

Turtle Time has employed three interns to get the word out about sea turtles and their habitat. Overall, the education component will need to continue for growth and success.

"Two have increased their efforts in passing out literature to condos and Realtors, and one is doing mapping for us," said Haverfield. "Town code enforcement has increased their educational efforts as well. All in all, (Town Environmental Sciences Coordinator) Keith Laakkonen and the residents of Fort Myers Beach are really, really doing a good job in generally making the beaches turtle friendly. Even though we are having issues with turtles being harassed, we think people who are new to the area and haven't learned yet will get the message."

Last year, Tropical Storm Debby 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.

Unlike last year, this season's first tropical storm did not affect sea turtle nesting. The water table did not rise enough to reach them and flush them out.

The evaluation process usually begins at the 70-day mark. Wednesday marks the //-mark since the first nest was built neat the Sterling beach access. 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,"

The hurricane season produced 19 named storms, 10 which became hurricanes and one (that did not make landfall) was labeled a major hurricane. While the number of named storms and hurricanes was above the average of 12 and six respectively, the barrier island of Estero Island was spared of any major catastrophes.

Fort Myers Beach received less of an impact from two tropical storms: Sandy and Isaac, but were touched nonetheless. The main casualty of those storms appeared to be sea turtle nests that were built along the beachfront.

"It's sad, frustrating and stressful for turtlers who have put in a lot of hours of work," Haverfield said at the time. "Had it been man-made damage, that would have been a different matter. But this is nature, and sea turtles have survived nature for 200 million years.



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