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SCCF reports of first leatherback turtle nest in Lee

By Staff | Aug 5, 2009

A nest of leatherback sea turtles — the first documented leatherback nest in Lee and Collier counties — hatched Sunday on Sanibel’s East End.
Linda Gornick, a volunteer and walker in the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Sea Turtle Research and Monitoring Program, found the nest June 3.
Gornick notified permittee Tom Krekel, who quickly determined it was not a loggerhead crawl.
The nest was identified as a probable green sea turtle nest, but the very large crawl and body pit raised the possibility that it was a leatherback nest.
Photos of the nest and crawl were provided to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and confirmation was received that it was probably from a green sea turtle.
SCCF sea turtle coordinator Amanda Bryant, with herpetologist Chris Lechowicz, dug the nest Monday morning. They discovered 90 empty eggshells and four live leatherback hatchlings.
The hatchlings were released Monday night.
Hatched nests are normally dug after three days, but the nest was dug early because it was in immediate danger of predation — a ghost crab was already digging in the nest when Bryant arrived.
Leatherbacks typically nest along the Florida Panhandle and the East Coast.
Leatherbacks very rarely nest in Southwest Florida — one nest was documented in Sarasota County. A few leatherback hatchlings from the East Coast were released on Sanibel in the ’70s as part of an experiment.
The crawls of loggerheads are easily distinguished from those of greens and leatherbacks because loggerheads alternate the front flippers when they crawl on land.
Greens and leatherbacks use both left and right flippers at the same time, creating a parallel crawl.
The June 3 crawl was wider than a loggerhead crawl, there was a very large body pit and a large mound of sand camouflaging the nest area.
SCCF coordinates more than 100 volunteers who monitor sea turtle nesting on the islands each season, from May through October.
To learn more about the leatherback nest, visit: www.sccf.org/content/171/ Green-Sea-Turtle-Nest.aspx or attend a Turtle Tracks program at SCCF.
The Turtle Tracks program is offered at 9 a.m. every Thursday. For information, call 472-2329.

Source: Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation