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Rotary Happenings: Rotary learns about SCCF’s sea turtle program

By Staff | Oct 18, 2017

Good News! It’s nice to make that declaration. Good News! This week our Sanibel-Captiva Rotary’s guest speaker was Kelly Sloan, coordinator of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Sea Turtle Program. As most of our island residents know, SCCF’s sea turtle program is probably the most visible indicator of our islands’ ongoing commitment to the conservation of coastal habitats. Just walking on the beaches this time of the year, you can’t help but notice the corded off yellow taped zones that indicate the presence of sea turtle nesting areas. Kelly told us that the count this year was at an all-time high with a count of 860 nests pre-hurricane and a remaining count of 720 post-hurricane. Phenomenal there are hatchlings through the roof, well through the sand.

Kelly named the types of sea turtles you can find around the world, loggerhead, green, kemps, hawksbill, kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, glatback and leatherback. Nesting on our islands are usually loggerheads.

Sea turtle nesting season on Sanibel and Captiva runs from April to October and volunteers from SCCF monitor the beaches every morning during this time of the year in search of the tell-tale tracks that are visible from the turtle crawl the night before. Females come ashore to lay their eggs, males never leave the water. When tracks lead to a nest at the high-tide line the volunteers will mark the nesting sight, cord off the area, post signs, and in some cases, place a mesh covering over the nest to prevent coyote and other prey from feeding on the turtle eggs. The female turtle builds her nest usually somewhere near the nest area she was hatched. The sea turtle uses her back flippers to dig the nest and lays approximately 110 eggs. A female turtle may create as many as three to four nests called clutches. The temperature of the nest determines the sex of the turtles-as Kelly said, “hot chicks, cold dudes.”

Incubation time is about two months. Volunteers monitor the nests every morning and night for signs of hatchling activity. When the hatchlings emerge from the nests they immediately crawl to the water and use the currents to take them toward the Gulf Stream. SCCF volunteers monitor the hatching activity as well as they can, never interfering, but sometimes guiding hatchlings to the water. An inspection of the sea turtle nests take place after about three days to count the number of eggs hatched.

During the first three to five years of life, sea turtles spend most of their time in the pelagic zone floating in sargassium seaweed mats where they can find shelter and food. As the turtles reach adult hood they move closer to the shore. The female sea turtle hatchling’s life circle will bring them back to the island shores again when they mature and are ready for reproduction.

The Sanibel-Captiva Chamber website has this information for residents and visitor during sea turtle nesting season:

* Turn off all lights that could draw attention away from the Gulf of Mexico to the land. No light should be shining toward the beach.

* Do not leave anything like beach umbrellas, shoes, sand pales, etc. on the beach. These are obstacles for the babies.

* Fill in any holes you created – like when you are out building sandcastles on our beautiful beaches.

* Do not use flash photography to catch the little guys making their way back to the Gulf. You know how it feels to be “blinded by the light.” The babies won’t be able to find their way, so no flashes, please.

If you follow these simple guidelines, you can help ensure that the baby sea turtles can find their way back to the water, where they need to be.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m. Friday morning at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club. Guests are always welcomed.