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SCCF: Most loggerhead nests ever documented this season


SCCF Nesting loggerhead sea turtle.

It is official — 2020 is a record-breaking nesting season for loggerhead sea turtles on both islands.

As of today, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s sea turtle team has documented 659 nests on Sanibel, breaking the previous record number of 649 set in 2017. On Captiva, there are now 265 loggerhead nests, well beyond the previous record of 194 nests set in 2016.

“This season’s nest counts are very encouraging and are a testament to over 60 years of conservation work on Sanibel and Captiva, as well as the entire state of Florida and the surrounding waters,” SCCF Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan said. “However, it’s important to keep in mind that monitoring population trends based on nest counts is very complicated.”

Sea turtles have complex life cycles — females lay more than one nest per year and do not typically reproduce every year, so even when the population is stable, it is natural to see fluctuations in nesting from year to year.

A 2019 review by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission revealed that there was no evidence for an increasing or a declining trend in the breeding female population from 1998-2018. The loggerhead population is still fragile, facing many threats, including bycatch in fisheries, habitat loss, pollution and climate change.

SCCF Loggerhead nesting on the islands.

After the catastrophic red tide that occurred during the 2018 nesting season resulted in more than 100 strandings of loggerheads, there was concern that the number of adult turtles lost would have a negative impact on the 2020 nesting season, the SCCF reported.

Even though the 2020 nesting season is a record for Sanibel and Captiva, many questions remain concerning the long-term effects of the unprecedented 2018 red tide event. SCCF’s team is currently conducting a comprehensive research project to better understand how the 2018 bloom affects the health of the surviving turtles and whether they may transfer the toxins to their hatchlings.

Based on tagging data, 17 of the turtles the team encountered this year nested during the 2018 red tide. Nineteen turtles nested in 2016 and may be on a three-year remigration cycle, suggesting that they were not nesting or in nearshore waters in 2018.

“We may yet even see more turtles from 2018 nesting in 2021,” SCCF biologist Jack Brzoza said. “We are cautiously optimistic that the record nesting will continue into the future and we’re excited to see what awaits our islands in 2021.”

To report issues with nests, nesting turtles, or hatchlings on the islands, call the SCCF’s Sea Turtle Hotline at 978-728-3663.

STEFANIE PLEIN Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling.

SCCF Loggerhead hatchling heads for the water.