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Rotary Happenings: SCCF’s Sloan talks turtles

By Staff | Sep 2, 2015

Kelly Sloan of the SCCF. PHOTO PROVIDED

Some wonderful and wondrous things happen here on the Islands of Sanibel and Captiva during what some may call our Islands’ off-season.

The preservation of our natural surroundings gives us opportunities all year long to experience amazing animal life both on land and aquatic, but in the period between May and October we are privileged to welcome back each year the amazing Sea Turtles.

Female Sea Turtles come ashore during this period of time to nest on our beaches. Kelly Sloan, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Biologist and Sea Turtle Coordinator, spoke to the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club on Friday, Aug. 21, on the topic of Sea Turtles.

Kelly’s introduction to her topic began with some basic Sea Turtle information: they are air-breathing reptiles, they have been around for 100 + million years, they come ashore only to nest, they nest and hatch only at night, and nest temperature determines the sex of Sea Turtles.

Overall there are seven species of Sea Turtles: Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill, Kemp Ridley, Olive Ridley, and Flatback but only the Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtles nest on Sanibel and Captiva.

Myra Roberts sea turtle painting T-shirt design. PHOTO PROVIDED

Loggerheads are reddish-brown with very large heads, thus the name loggerhead. The carapace/shell and flippers are a reddish-brown color; the plastron/under belly is yellow.

They weigh in around 200 to 400 pounds at maturity and are somewhere around 3.5 feet long. With their powerful jaw and primarily carnivorous they feed mostly on mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and other marine animals. Life span around 50 years.

Green Sea Turtles are normally brown or olive but are named for the greenish color of their body fat. They are the largest of the Sea Turtles weighing in at more than 400 to 700 pounds and are about 5 to 6 feet long. Although large in size the Green Sea Turtle has a tiny head with a serrated jaw.

This helps them with their herbivorous/aquatic plant diet allowing them to cut through seagrass. Life span around 80 years.

Sea Turtles spend their entire life in the ocean except nesting time and birth. Only the female sea turtles will come ashore to lay their eggs. Male sea turtles never return to shore after birth.

The female turtles usually return to the same beach time after time to nest. Using their strong flippers to emerge from the water at night and crawl up the beach to find a safe nesting site, they dig a pit in the sand and fill it with somewhere around 100 to 200 ping-pong shaped eggs in each nest, cover the pit with an upside-down funnel shaped sand covering, and crawl back to the ocean.

This camouflaged upside down-funnel shaped nest provides protection to the eggs from outside predators.

This egg laying ritual can happen three to four times for one female per season. The eggs hatch two months later.

Hatchlings emerge at night and using the light of the horizon make their way to the ocean. This is a most dangerous time for the hatchlings, as predators await.

If they make it to the water, they then make a three-day journey to the Sargasso Sea for a period of three years before venturing off into other parts of the ocean.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation -SCCF staff and volunteers monitor Island beaches during nesting season to locate Sea Turtle nests.

They record, number, flag, and place protective screening on the nests and mark them as protected beach areas during Sea Turtle season. SCCF Sea Turtle Patrol members return each day beginning at dawn to monitor the state of each nest, recording vital information regarding influences on the state of the nests and provide a count of destroyed nests and empty eggshells.

To date the numbers of nests found on Sanibel and Captiva this season are Loggerheads-129; Captiva/489 Sanibel, Green Sea Turtles-26 combined.

Things we can do to provide a safer environment for the Sea Turtles?Keep the lights near the beaches off at night during turtle season, keep the water and beaches free of litter, remove beach furniture at night, fill holes on the beach, and respect marked Sea-Turtle areas on the beach.

Exclusive Rotary T-shirts and long-sleeved sun shirts with the gorgeous image of Myra Roberts Green Sea Turtle.

The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m., Friday mornings at the Sanibel Community House, Periwinkle Way. Guests are always welcomed.