Helping protect Cayo Costa’s sea turtle nests
Cayo Costa State Park has experienced a terrific sea turtle nesting season thus far with 286 nests on the 8-mile stretch of beach.
“We have two nests that have hatched already,” Friends of Cayo Costa Chair Elanie McLaughlin said Wednesday, July 6. “We are expecting six to 10 more nests to hatch over the next five to six days.”
Since Cayo Costa State Park is an unspoiled and pristine beach, in years past green turtle and loggerhead have laid more than 300 nests. The eight miles of beach has practically no structures along the coastline, meaning there are no manmade lighting interference for the hatchlings to make it safely to the water.
“The little turtles follow the moonlight to the Gulf of Mexico,” McLaughlin said. “Cayo Costa is so unspoiled and pristine. It is a wonderful place for loggerhead and green turtles to come ashore and that is why we work so hard to protect the nests.”
With the large number of nests, staff and volunteers work diligently to protect them.
“We have very limited staff on the island. Some part-time and a couple full-time, but we have a good group of volunteers who are helping with the nest monitoring, so we can make certain we can identify every nests as soon as possible and mark it, so it won’t get trampled by visitors and raccoons,” McLaughlin said.
Out of the 286 nests recorded, two are green turtle nests with the remaining being loggerhead sea turtle nests.
“The green turtles are far more rare than loggerheads,” she said. “We are very excited when we see those. Obviously we want to help that population.”
Staff and volunteers scan the shoreline of Cayo Costa State Park on a daily basis to keep track of the nests, which is the biggest challenge due to the length of the beach that has to be patrolled.
“They mark it with some tape and poles, so that we can readily see where the nests are and mark the geographic coordinates for the nests,” she said.
Once the area is marked and the coordinates are recorded it is sent to the state, as well as being shared with the coordinator of Friends of Cayo Costa.
“The big job is to monitor the nests. Once they know the date the mother turtle comes ashore and lay the eggs, they can estimate when the nests hatch,” McLaughlin said.
In an effort to help the staff and volunteers, Friends of Cayo Costa is offering the program “Adopt-A-Nest.” The program provides individuals with the opportunity to donate $25, which is used for future capital expenses, such as supplies to mark and monitor the nests, as well as acquiring a new vehicle.
“We are trying very hard to raise funds to purchase a new vehicle to help staff,” McLaughlin said. “It’s hot and it’s a long beach. It will help the staff and volunteers to more quickly monitor the nests along the coastline.”
The Polaris ATV has a price tag of around $12,000. She said they would love to raise all that money this year, but have a two year plan in place if the goal is not met.
In addition to the “Adopt-A-Nest” funds going towards materials and equipment, the program also provides the donor with a personal card that includes turtle art. The donor also receives an email letting them know the geographic reference and coordinates of where the nest they adopted is located. Once the nests hatches, the donor will then receive another email.
“It’s a wonderful gift. I have given it each year to my grandchildren and they follow it online,” she said. “We have a lot of nests that are adoptable and that we need to have adopted. We would welcome people who want to help out with protecting the loggerhead and green turtles . . . helping us increase their population.”
Those interested in contributing to the cause, can do so by visiting friendsofcayocosta.org.
“Cayo Costa is one of the largest unspoiled islands in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a beautiful habitat for nesting turtles. We want the nests to continue to grow,” McLaughlin said.
The Friends of Cayo Costa, which formed approximately four years ago, assists Cayo Costa State Park with projects and purchasing equipment and supplies used by park staff and volunteers.
The latest improvement was building a small shelter for volunteers to rest, change and have lunch. The very basic building was officially opened in the spring.
“I think the volunteers are very grateful,” McLaughlin said.
In addition to raising money for the park, the Friends of Cayo Costa’s mission is to recognize and share the history of the island, which began with the Calusa Indians and the pioneer fishing families.
“Everyone who is involved in Friends of Cayo Costa in passionate about the island, protecting the island and keeping it as unspoiled as possible. But, have visitors come and understand the ecosystem and history of the island, so they can to appreciate the island,” McLaughlin said.