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Leatherback makes earliest crawl ever on Sanibel

By Staff | Apr 10, 2020


On April 1, one of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s former permittees, Dan Moeder, called in a leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) crawl on the east end of the island. The crawl pre-empted official monitoring for sea turtles on the islands, which begins today, April 15.

“This year’s leatherback crawl is the earliest crawl to date among all species of sea turtles on our islands,”SCCF Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan said. “What an exciting way to kick off Sanibel’s sea turtle season.”

Leatherbacks are the largest of all the sea turtles – they can be over 6 feet in length and weigh 500-1,500 pounds. The species is not common on Florida’s west coast and finding their crawls is extremely rare on Sanibel, with similar events only being documented in 2009 and 2015.

“This was a false crawl and she did not lay eggs,” Sloan said. “She may be back to Sanibel soon, or she could decide to nest on another beach.”

The second-earliest crawl was a Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) nest on April 16, 2018. The earliest crawl for loggerheads (Caretta caretta) – which is the most common species – was on April 20, 2012, on Captiva. Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) typically start nesting a little later than loggerheads.

“I’d like to give a special thank you Dan and his family who found the nest and alerted SCCF’s Sea Turtle Program by calling our hotline,” Sloan said.

Sea turtle monitoring on Sanibel originally began in the late 1950s with Charles LeBuff and the Caretta Research Inc., making it one of the longest-running monitoring programs in the country. The program was transferred to the SCCF in 1992 when Caretta Research Inc. disbanded.

When LeBuff moved to Sanibel in 1958, he was gifted shortly thereafter with a carapace or leathery shell of a leatherback from a turtle that had been found in 1943 stranded dead on the beach. He kept the 5-foot carapace, which he said kept exuding oil, under his home at the lighthouse. When Hurricane Donna struck the island in 1960, the carapace was washed away. In the 1970s and in 1988, LeBuff suspected two false crawls were by leatherbacks, but they were never officially documented.

To report nest, nesting turtle or hatchling issues, call the SCCF Sea Turtle Hotline at 978-728-3663.