On any given day, Mote's 200-plus researchers are in the field collecting information or asking for public help gathering information for important marine research studies. These environmental updates change regularly, reflecting Florida's ever-changing environment. Mote invites you to visit regularly for new information.

Sea turtle ordinance proposal on Longboat Key
Beach Conditions Report
SO COOL- Sarasota Operations Coastal Oceans Observing Lab
Red Tide
Florida Keys Environmental Observations
Sea Turtle Nesting
Tips to Help Keep Wildlife Safe on the Water and Dolphin Friendly Fishing and Viewing Tips
Dolphin Friendly Fishing and Viewing Tips
Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Strandings
Weather

 

Sea turtle ordinance proposal on Longboat Key

Are the rules about sea turtles (the Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance) changing on Longboat Key?

The Town of Longboat Key plans to compare their existing Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance with a new, draft ordinance to determine which is better for sea turtle conservation and the community. The town held an initial workshop on March 23 to help community members learn more. Upcoming meeting dates will be posted to the town’s calendar at: www.longboatkey.org

Why should Mote staff and volunteers be aware?

Longboat Key is within the 35-mile stretch of Sarasota County beaches where Mote Marine Laboratory has coordinated conservation of sea turtles for 34 years. During sea turtle nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31, Mote scientists and volunteers monitor beaches from Longboat Key through Venice, documenting sea turtle activities and responding as appropriate to threats affecting nests. Mote monitors the Sarasota County side of Longboat Key, while our collaborators in the Longboat Key Turtle Watch monitor the Manatee County side. Both nonprofit organizations work under a permit granted to Mote by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Given that sea turtles are endangered and threatened species that many people care about, it is common for Mote to get questions about any new developments.

Does Mote create or enforce sea turtle laws and ordinances?

No. Mote is an independent, nonprofit research institution that collects extensive data. These data are available to help government officials and the public make informed decisions.

In this case, the proposed ordinance was drafted by staff from the Town of Longboat Key after thorough review of other ordinances, input from a citizens’ committee including Longboat Key Turtle Watch members, and discussions with neighboring municipalities. During this process, Longboat Key staff consulted Mote’s research data and requested Mote scientists' interpretation of the data, but Mote did not draft specific language for the ordinance. Ultimately the draft ordinance is expected to be finalized by Longboat Key staff for consideration by their Town Commission.

If adopted, what would the new ordinance do?

The draft ordinance aims to strengthen management of artificial lights — which can disorient sea turtles and lead them into harm’s way — and of obstacles such as beach furniture that can trap or impede turtles.

Here are two examples:

  • The existing ordinance addresses some forms of artificial light — particularly those that shine onto the sand — during nesting season. The new draft ordinance would address more light sources, such as points of light that don’t shine onto the sand but are still visible to turtles on the beach.
  • The current ordinance does not require removing obstacles such as beach furniture and portable recreational equipment at night (when most local turtles nest), but many residents and visitors remove these items voluntarily to clear the way for turtles. The draft ordinance would require moving such obstacles back to the dune line from 11 p.m.-5 a.m.

In general, the draft ordinance would make turtle protections on Longboat Key more similar to those of other local beaches covered by Sarasota County’s code.

What does this decision mean for Longboat Key’s sea turtles?
If the proposed ordinance is adopted, Mote’s continued data collection will help monitor for impacts on nesting success — i.e., more sea turtle nests and fewer false crawls (unsuccessful nesting attempts) and fewer turtles disoriented.

All beaches in Mote’s monitoring area — Longboat Key through Venice — have some percentage of sea turtles disoriented each year. In the past two years, more turtles disoriented on Longboat Key than other local beaches, including Casey Key, which hosts more turtles. While differences among beaches occur for many complex reasons, these differences are part of the discussion process for municipal decisions.

Exactly what happens during disorientation? What is the harm?

When two or more sea turtle hatchlings travel in the wrong direction for at least 10 feet, their nest is experiencing disorientation, according to the Florida-wide criteria from FWC. Mote and other state-permitted programs report disorientations to FWC for review, allowing for comparisons among different areas. FWC has collected disorientation reports since 1987.

Disoriented hatchlings often wander much further than 10 feet, crossing roads, falling into swimming pools or holes, getting eaten by predators or simply exhausting their energy. Even if they find the ocean, they may be too depleted from their detour to survive the next step: a long and strenuous swim to seek food and shelter in Sargassum seaweed miles offshore. 

Artificial lights cause disorientation, according to multiple studies. “A great deal of evidence suggests that brightness is an im­portant cue used by hatchlings in search of the ocean. Hatchlings move toward bright artificial light sources in both laboratory and field settings,” according to an FWC technical report.

How can people protect sea turtles now?

During nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31:

  • DO stay away from sea turtle nests marked with yellow stakes and tape, along with seabird nesting zones bounded by ropes.
  • DO remain quiet and observe from a distance if you encounter a nesting sea turtle or hatchlings.
  • DO shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
  • DO close drapes after dark and stack beach furniture at the dune line or, ideally, remove it from the beach
  • DO fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
  • DON’T approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise or shine lights at turtles.
  • DON’T use flashlights, head lamps or fishing lamps on the beach.
  • DON’T encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
  • DON’T use fireworks on the beach.
  • DON’T walk dogs on any Sarasota County beach other than Brohard Paw Park in Venice. There, dogs must be leashed or under voice control, according to county ordinances.

For questions about sea turtle laws and ordinances or turtle-friendly lighting, feel free to contact your local code enforcement officer or FWC.

Beach Conditions Report

The Beach Conditions Report provides several types of information about Southwest Florida beaches during Red Tide events: whether dead fish are present, whether there is respiratory irritation among beachgoers, what the water color is, the wind direction and what flags are currently flying at the beaches (for lifeguard-monitored beaches).

Red Tide

Mote Marine Laboratory studies Karenia brevis, the organism that causes Red Tides in Florida.

Click here for an overview about Mote's Red Tide research.
Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Red Tide.
Click here for a primer on the differences between Red Tide and red drift algae.

Information about Seafood and Red Tide

Please note that it is safe to eat shellfish that are commercially harvested and sold in fish markets, restaurants and other outlets. Florida has a well-established monitoring program for all commercial shellfish beds and these beds are closed when affected by Red Tide or other environmental conditions. Note: It is not advisable to harvest shellfish recreationally, unless you first check on the status of the location (open or closed) with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Click here for more information.

For recreational fishing: Fish that act as they would normally when hooked should be safe to eat as long as they are fileted first and the innards discarded.

More Information about Red Tide

For conditions throughout the Florida Gulf coast, with information about cell concentrations observed at specific locations and closed shellfish areas, please see the FWC web site and follow the link to “Red Tide Current Status.” The FWC Red Tide Status Line is now available for callers to hear a recording detailing Red Tide conditions throughout the state. FWC updates the recording each Friday by 5 p.m. after sampling efforts for the week have been completed and analyzed.

Florida Keys Environmental Observations

Mote's Marine Ecosystem Event Response and Assessment Program is operated in the Florida Keys through the Tropical Research Laboratory and it invites members of the public who frequent the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and its surrounding areas to provide information about unusual events they witness in that ecosystem. The project is designed to help the scientific community better understand the nature and causes of marine events that adversely affect marine organisms and to assist ongoing research efforts to understand and assess new events.

There is no specialized training necessary to participate. No paperwork is required. By simply providing information about unusual events - what they were, where they were and when they were - residents can help alert scientists to potential large-scale problems before they develop. Past reports have included information about coral disease or bleaching, algal blooms or discolored water, diseased or dead animals and sick or stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.

Recent Observations
Online Report Form

Sea Turtle Nesting Updates

Sea turtles nest along Southwest Florida beaches from May through October. Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program monitors 35 miles of beaches in Sarasota and Manatee counties daily to check for new nests.

Tips for Protecting Marine Life

As you enjoy Southwest Florida’s beaches and coastal waters, please be vigilant for marine animals and follow the best practices below to avoid harming sea turtles, dolphins and manatees. These tips matter year ‘round — especially during the summer boating season, when sea turtles are swimming just offshore to mate and coming ashore to nest, and dolphins and manatees are also on the move for breeding and feeding. Sea turtles, dolphins and manatees are all protected by federal law.
 

Dolphin-Friendly Fishing and Viewing Tips (PDF)

Tips for Boaters:

  • Follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and use vigilance to avoid striking marine animals.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to see marine life in your path.
  • Follow posted signs for slow-speed zones.
  • Follow 10 dolphin-friendly fishing and viewing tips.  Click here for a PDF. (These tips were made with dolphins in mind, but they're also great guidelines for the best ways to view all large marine animals.)
  • Never feed marine wildlife. Click here to watch a PSA about why it’s harmful and illegal to feed wild dolphins: www.dontfeedwilddolphins.org.
  • 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. 
  • If you observe a manatee mating herd - several manatees gathered as males vie to mate with a female - watch the manatees from at least 100 feet away. Coming any closer might disrupt the animals' natural mating behavior or put people into harm's way. Adult manatees typically weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds and people can be seriously injured.

Tips for Beachgoers:

Sea turtle nesting season takes place from May 1-Oct. 31 on Southwest Florida beaches. On 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.

Here are some “do and don’t” tips to keep our beaches turtle-friendly:

  • DO stay away from sea turtle nests marked with yellow stakes and tape, and seabird nesting zones that are bounded by ropes.
  • DO remain quiet and observe from a distance if you encounter a nesting sea turtle or hatchlings.
  • DO shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
  • DO close drapes after dark and stack beach furniture at the dune line or, ideally, remove it from the beach
  • DO fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
     
  • DON’T approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, or shine lights at turtles.
  • DON’T use flashlights, head lamps or fishing lamps on the beach.
  • DON’T encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
  • DON’T use fireworks on the beach.
  • DON’T walk dogs on any Sarasota County beach other than Brohard Paw Park in Venice. There, dogs must be leashed or under voice control, according to county ordinances.

To report a sick or injured marine animal, please see the guidelines below.

Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Strandings

Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program responds 24 hours a day seven days a week to reports of sick, injured and dead marine mammals and sea turtles for animals in Sarasota and Manatee county waters. Live animals are brought back to Mote’s Dolphin and Whale Hospital or Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital for treatment and the deceased animals undergo a detailed post-mortem examination so that we may learn more about the natural history of these animals and evaluate long-term trends in mortality.

Within Sarasota or Manatee county waters, if you see a stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle, please call Mote's Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at (941) 988-0212.

If you see a stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or a stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 1 (888) 404-FWCC (3922).

Weather

Mote has been operating its own weather station since 1980. Check here for current conditions and historical information.
Weather Update