Final turtle report of the season for St. George Island
I evaluated the last sea turtle nest left on St. George Island a couple of weeks ago, turned in my last data sheet, and our volunteer coordinator, Bruce Drye, tallied all the results for the 2008 sea turtle nesting season on St. George Island. About 15 volunteers worked on dawn patrol this year, marking nests, evaluating nests, recording the data of hatched eggs and unhatched eggs, and releasing babies left behind in the nest after hatching.
Here are the basics:
As a group, we found and marked 168 nests this year, all loggerhead sea turtles, from the entrance to the State Park down to Sikes Cut. This is the highest number of recorded nests since we began keeping daily records in 1998. Numbers were high all over Florida, as well as in Georgia and the Carolinas.
St. George Island had the most nests in the Florida panhandle of any other beach, and our nests were concentrated inside the Plantation, on the western end of the island. Little St. George, the next island to our west, had about 40 nests, which is high for them, too.
We also had 155 false crawls, turtle crawls that were noted on the dawn patrols and did *not* have nests associated with them. No one really knows why turtles sometimes crawl up and back out without leaving a nest, but they do. Sometimes you will find a nest a little further down the beach on the same morning, which could mean that same turtle decided to come in at a little different place to lay her nest - she didn't choose to make a nest at the other crawl for some reason. But, we really don't know. We just record the data, and report it.
Of the 168 marked nests, 82 were washed away in high surf, typically the ones that were laid very low on the beach, near the water. But, we did have a couple of storms pass close enough by us in the bay to get some really high surf, which got even mid-beach nests.
The other 86 nests hatched, with varying degrees of success. Overall, during nest evaluations, we counted 9491 eggs, of which 8010 were hatched eggs, meaning we had a huge number of babies on the beach this year!
The sad fact is that 20 of those nests disoriented to lights, both of beachfront homes and businesses in the center of the island, whose lights collectively are a real problem. 1626 hatchlings were disoriented to lights, and most of them likely did not not make it to the water. We have to all work harder to bring this number to ZERO - disorientation to lights is a totally human-caused phenomenon, and incredibly easy to eliminate, just takes the flick of a switch, changing out light fixtures for turtle-friendly ones, and a determination to keep our beaches dark at night. Lighting needs to be focused on where we humans need it, and away from where it hurts our sea turtles.
Bruce also gave weekly talks about sea turtles to locals and visitors alike, and almost 500 people attended those talks. The more information we can get out to our visitors and residents about protecting sea turtles, turning off lights on the beach, taking their things in off the beach at night, and reducing or eliminating the use of plastics that end up in the water, the better. Hats off to Bruce for a great series of talks.
Thanks to fellow volunteer Steve Harris for the baby turtle picture above - a great shot of a rare daytime emergence of babies from the nest.
The 2009 turtle season on St. George Island cranks back up in May, when the mother turtles begin to crawl up to lay their nests again - I can't wait!