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SCCF extends thanks to sea turtle volunteers for efforts

By SCCF - | Sep 3, 2020

SCCF Long-time turtle volunteers Kerry Salatino and Joan Rogers.

This is the time of year when sea turtles have finished laying new nests and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s primary focus turns to monitoring and inventorying previously discovered nests.

As of Sept. 2, over 690 nests had hatched and been inventoried by SCCF volunteers and staff, and the nests produced nearly 29,000 hatchlings. With hundreds of nests still to hatch, more hatchlings will start their journey to sea in the coming months.

The islands are in their fourth month of sea turtle season and SCCF’s 109 volunteers have already spent countless hours protecting the turtles on Sanibel and Captiva. They wake up before dawn to patrol the beach for new crawls, check existing nests and inventory nests after they hatch. A record-breaking year translates to more work and longer days, and the volunteers have enthusiastically taken on the increased workload.

“We are very fortunate to have such a passionate and dedicated team,” SCCF officials stated. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Before this record-breaking loggerhead nesting season even officially began, Sanibel was met with a surprise visit from a leatherback who false crawled on April 1. The SCCF team was hopeful that she would return to nest and it did not have to wait too long. The first leatherback nest was documented on April 17, just two days after the official start of nesting season.

SCCF Volunteer Allen Dunham inventorying one of Juniper’s nests.

In total, six leatherback nests have been laid on Sanibel and Captiva this year. There have only been two other documented leatherback nests in the history of SCCF’s program — one during the 2009 season, and one nest during the 2015 season.

The SCCF team encountered the leatherback, who was named “Juniper,” four times during its night surveys. While it can only say with complete certainty that four of the six nests laid belong to Juniper, it suspects that the other nests — laid before the night surveys began this season — were also hers.

Of the six nests laid, only one hatched. Inventories of the five other nests revealed a total of 478 unhatched eggs. Compared to other marine turtle species, leatherbacks tend to have low hatching success, which indicates the percentage of eggs of that hatch in each nest, so it is not considered unusual.

However, the leatherback nest that did hatch was a strong one, producing 56 hatchlings. The SCCF is hopeful that some of the hatchlings survive to reproductive age and return to the islands to nest.

SCCF SCCF sea turtle volunteers in training.