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Early stats show a healthy start to sea turtle and Snowy Plover seasons

By Staff | May 20, 2015

Snow plover nesting season is currently under way on the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva. Photo courtesy of SCCF

The first count by the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation has been done on sea turtle and Snowy Plover nesting on Sanibel and Captiva, with both having satisfactory numbers.

The SCCF sea turtle nesting stats as of May 8, has counted six nests and six false crawls on the east side of Sanibel, while seven nests and 26 false crawls on the western side.

Captiva has two nests and eight false crawls thus far, as well, for a total of 15 nests and 40 false crawls.

The false crawl is defined as a mother sea turtle coming up on shore to lay eggs, but instead, turning around and returning to the ocean.

“We have a higher number of sea turtle nests this year than last year at this time of year, which was a record season with 411 nests,” said SCCF sea turtle coordinator Kelly Sloan. “The reason is probably because April was warmer than normal. The number of false crawls is really high, though. That is usually at a 50-50 ratio.”

Rare daytime nesting loggerhead in 2013. Photo was taken from a safe distance. It is against state law to disturb nesting sea turtles. Photo courtesy of SCCF

The high number of false crawls can be due to any number of reasons, including things such as lights, humans or beach furniture scaring off the mother sea turtle.

“Or it could be due to the nesting habitat changing because we’ve seen a lot of beach erosion, as well,” Sloan added.

With the 15 nests being a good number, there is no way to predict if that number will rise to the record of 411 from 2014. Sea turtles lay eggs in two to three-year cycles, so it will depend on how many new nesters there will be.

With the season starting so early, Sloan noted people need to be aware of the sea turtle nesting is now, with the first nest being made April 25.

“We just like to remind people to remove your beach belongings and also to fill in any holes,” Sloan said. “Also turn off your lights and pull your shades if you live on the beach.”

The first sea turtle nest of the year was roped off by the SCCF on Sanibel. Photo courtesy of SCCF

More sea turtles will be coming ashore to make nests and lay their eggs. In about two months, the hatchlings will start emerging after a 45-70 day incubation period, meaning the season will go into late August or even into early September.

“But the season has started well,” Sloan said. “So far, so good.”

The Snowy Plover count as of May 8, is 10 total nests. Five nests are active, three have hatched nine chicks, two nests still have three chicks and one nest has two chicks.

One nest is gone with reasons unknown, while one nest has been washed out by the tide.

Snowy Plovers breed in Florida only on the Panhandle and the Gulf coast. They are listed as a threatened specie with only 225 pairs counted as of 2006.

The kindergarten class at Cherokee Elementary School, located in a suburb of Chicago, raised enough money to adopt two sea turtle nests on Sanibel. Photo courtesy of SCCF

Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach and the Siesta Key have significant Snowy Plover nesting grounds. From February through August, people should avoid the area between the high tide wrack line and dune vegetation, the zone where Plovers usually nest.

Keep dogs, kites and beach furniture out of that zone, as well.

Snowy Plover eggs are recognizable as cream-colored with black speckles, which make them hard to see on the beach.

When the mother bird lays the eggs, it takes from 28 to 32 days to hatch.

Again, fill in any holes made on the beach, because the young chicks are flightless and if they fall into one, they will not be able to get out.