April 20, 2020 — Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is very pleased to share that sea turtles have officially arrived on Sarasota’s beaches! Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program (STCRP) began monitoring Sarasota area beaches on April 15, finding the first nest early Monday morning on Siesta Key. Other signs of sea turtles included a false crawl (sea turtle comes on the beach but returns to the ocean without creating a nest) on Longboat Key, also documented on Monday.

The nest was created by a loggerhead sea turtle, Sarasota’s most abundant nester. On the west coast of Florida, Sarasota County is the most dense area of loggerhead nesting. Green sea turtles nest on area beaches as well, and although relatively low in number, STCRP has documented an increase in green sea turtle nests in Sarasota in the last 20 years.

The start of nest monitoring has already proven to be different from previous years in the face of beach closures due to COVID19. Mote’s monitoring of sea turtle nests is vital to monitoring the population of these endangered species, and in accordance with state and local guidelines, Mote is continuing its long history of sea turtle patrol on Sarasota-area beaches. All monitoring is conducted with permission from local government to allow access to closed beaches, and Mote sea turtle patrol is conducting all activities with a heightened awareness for social distancing and cleaning procedures. Mote’s sea turtle activities are conducted under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Turtle Permits 027, 054, 070, 048, and 028.

Fast facts about Mote’s sea turtle monitoring:

  • Approximately 300 volunteers assist Mote’s team of biologists and interns with daily monitoring of beaches.
  • 35 miles of beaches monitored, from Longboat Key through Venice.
  • 2020 is the 39th year of monitoring by Mote.
  • In 2019, Mote documented 5,112 nests, record-breaking year.
  • The top-three years for number of sea turtle nests in the Sarasota region have occurred in the last five years.
  • Follow weekly nesting numbers at mote.org/2020nesting.
  • Nesting season in this region is officially May 1 – Oct. 31. Please consult all applicable laws and ordinances that may be in your area. Consult FWC’s website for information about ordinances that may apply to you.
  • Sea turtles, sea turtle eggs and nesting marking materials are protected under state and federal law and any harassment or interference with a sea turtle, living or dead, is subject to penalty.

Check out this video from Mote about the start of nest monitoring:

How to protect sea turtles:

  • 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 put beach furniture far back from the water.
  • Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
  • Do not approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, shine lights at turtles, or use flashlights, cell phone lights, or fishing lamps on the beach.
  • Do not encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
  • Do no use fireworks on the beach.
  • 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.

Emergency contacts:

If you see a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle in Sarasota or Manatee county waters, contact Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program at 888-345-2335. 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 or your local sheriff’s department.

If you find sea turtle hatchlings that are not on the beach or are headed away from the ocean, call Mote’s STCRP for instructions at 941-388-4331. Do not put hatchlings in water or take them into air conditioning. Hatchlings heading towards the ocean should be left alone.

Support sea turtle conservation at Mote:

Though Mote Aquarium and other public-facing operations are temporarily closed to protect public health amid COVID-19, Mote’s mission of marine science, education and conservation must and will continue. With the loss of revenue from our Aquarium, support from our community means more to us than ever. Please consider support Mote during the 2020 Giving Challenge, presented by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Take the pledge to give on April 28-29, 2020.

First nest of 2020 season, documented on Siesta Key. First nest of 2020 season, documented on Siesta Key.