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2011 a banner year for two Florida sea turtle species

By Staff | Oct 10, 2011

One of the rare leatherback sea turtles that hatched on Aug. 2, 2009 near the Tarpon Bay Road beach access on Sanibel.

The Florida sea turtle nesting season has come to an end, and there is good news for two of Florida’s federally endangered sea turtle species.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and its partners documented a record high annual nest count for green turtles in Florida. Leatherback turtles also had a high number of nests, with the count falling just shy of the previous high mark in 2009.

Loggerheads, the species that nests most commonly in Florida, did not have an increase in numbers this year. The nest count for this federally threatened sea turtle was close to average for the previous five years. However, since 1998, the trend in the number of loggerhead nests is a general decline.

“We’re pleased with the green turtle and leatherback nesting totals in 2011,” said Dr. Blair Witherington, an FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute scientist. “Nesting by both species has been rising dramatically and can be attributed at least in part to major conservation efforts over the past few decades. However, our loggerhead nesting totals have declined or are at best stable, which suggests that this species has a different, and perhaps more difficult, set of conservation challenges.”

Nest counts are performed each year through Florida’s Index Nesting Beach Survey, which was created to measure seasonal sea turtle nesting, and to allow for accurate comparisons of beaches and years. The standardized index counts take place on 255 miles of selected beaches along both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

In one of the largest wildlife counts in the nation, hundreds of FWC partners diligently survey Florida’s nesting beaches throughout the sea turtle nesting season.

“We are grateful for the large number of partners and volunteers that make this survey possible,” Witherington said. “Without them, we couldn’t collect nesting data on such a large scale.”

The FWC’s role in coordinating Florida’s sea turtle nest counts is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and sales of the state’s sea turtle license plate.

For more information about sea turtle nest counts, visit MyFWC.com/Research, click on “Wildlife,” then click on “Nesting” under the “Sea Turtle” heading.

Sick or injured sea turtles can be reported by contacting the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).