Mote Marine Laboratory documented the first three local sea turtle nests of 2017 — two on Sunday, April 30, and one on Monday, May 1 — in Venice, Florida.
Mote scientists, interns and more than 250 volunteers in Mote’s Sea Turtle Patrol monitor nesting activity on Longboat Key through Venice every day of sea turtle nesting season, which officially runs from May 1-Oct. 31 in southwest Florida.
The first three nests were laid by loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species protected under federal law. Loggerheads are the most common species on southwest Florida nesting beaches, followed by endangered green sea turtles. In recent years, Sarasota County has also hosted a handful of endangered Kemp’s ridleys, among the smallest and rarest sea turtles.
“We started hearing reports of nests along southern parts of our coast last week, so we were expecting our first local nest, and we hope this nest will be the start of another successful nesting season,” said Kristen Mazzarella, senior biologist with Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program.
This year, Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program will continue its long-term studies of local sea turtles by documenting every sea turtle nest and false crawl (when a turtle emerges but does not leave a nest) in Mote's patrol area, marking each nest with yellow stakes and flagging tape and collecting a suite of data.
Mote research has shown that nest numbers have increased recently on local beaches, with several record-breaking years in the past decade. In 2016 Mote reported 4,588 nests on Longboat Key through Venice — an all-time record for Mote’s 35 years of Sea Turtle Patrol.
Starting Monday, May 8, the public will be able to view Mote's weekly counts of sea turtle nests on Longboat Key through Venice at: www.mote.org/2017nesting
With the potential for another busy year, it is critically important that the public supports sea turtle research and conservation. The public can help Mote, a nonprofit, carry out this mission by donating online at www.mote.org/support. Select "donate" and choose “Sea Turtle Conservation” from the drop-down box. You can also give by texting "Mote" to 243725 (BIDPAL).
“Now that we have identified our first nests of the season, we strongly urge beachgoers to enjoy our wonderful beaches, but also to be mindful of these sea turtles that are endangered and threatened species that have been nesting here for millions of years,” Mazzarella said. “We want people to know they’re here and understand how to protect them by using turtle-friendly practices.”
Tips for the public
During nesting season, it is important to keep local waters and beaches sea turtle friendly.
Sea turtles are swimming just offshore to mate before the females come ashore to nest, juvenile turtles are feeding along the Gulf Coast, and by early summer the first hatchlings will venture into Gulf waters.
On the nesting beaches, light from waterfront properties can disorient nesting female turtles and their young, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea. Also, beach furniture, trash and other obstacles can impede sea turtles and their young.
Mote encourages coastal residents and visitors to follow the turtle-friendly tips below during nesting season, May 1 - Oct. 31.
If you encounter a nesting turtle or hatchlings, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
Close drapes after dark and stack beach furniture at the dune line or, ideally, remove it from the beach.
Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, or shine lights at turtles.
Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach.
Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
Use fireworks on the beach.
For more details, please refer to local sea turtle ordinances, including Sarasota County’s marine turtle protection code (which includes Lido, Siesta, Casey and Manasota Keys), the City of Venice marine turtle protection ordinance and the Town of Longboat Key marine turtle protection ordinance. An updated Longboat Key ordinance took effect in 2017. For questions about any sea turtle code or ordinance, contact code enforcement staff from each municipality.
On the water
Follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles and other large marine life.
Be sure to stow trash and line when under way. Marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a truck can become ingested by or entangled around marine life.
Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine life in your path.
While viewing any large marine animals, follow 10 viewing tips (designed for dolphins, but suitable for other large marine species too). Click here for a PDF.
If you see a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle, dolphin or whale in Sarasota or Manatee county waters, contact Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212. Outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
If you suspect that someone is tampering with a sea turtle nest, harassing a sea turtle or has possession of a sea turtle or any of its parts, please call FWC, call your local sheriff’s department and/or call Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program at 941-388-4331.
If you find sea turtle hatchlings that are not on the beach or are headed away from the ocean, call Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program for instructions. Put rescued hatchlings into a bucket with a layer of damp (not watery) sand and cover the bucket with a towel. Do not put hatchlings in water or take them into air conditioning. Hatchlings heading towards the ocean should be left alone.
Sea turtles are protected under federal law and any harassment or interference with a sea turtle, living or dead, is subject to penalty.