Suspected bobcat devours sea turtle nest; green turtle dies from injuries

■ BY SUE ERWIN

Boca Grande Sea Turtle Association volunteers have been kept busy tracking feline hunters and some other unusual visitors to the island recently, after several nests were subject to predation.

As they make their way to the beach to lay their eggs. nesting sea turtles constantly must face natural land predators. In this instance it appears that an aggressive bobcat has been visiting zones 4, 5 and 6 recently. The bobcat has harassed nesting turtles that are expending precious energy evading the predator, and it is leading to many false crawls (when a turtle comes up onto the beach but does not lay a nest). Also, this bobcat has been aggressively attacking nests: In some instances, an entire nest of up to 100 eggs has been lost.

Often, bobcats will take a quarter or a third of a nest, and the rest of the nest can be covered over with sand. A screen can also be put over the nest so that the rest of the eggs can be protected and hatch normally. A suspected Kemp’s Ridley crawl was spotted, but it was unable to be verified or debunked by Florida Fish and Wildlife officials. The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle has a flat carapace (shell) that is almost equally wide and long.

The Kemp’s Ridley, or the Atlantic Ridley sea turtle, is the rarest species of sea turtle and is critically endangered. It is the smallest of the eight species of sea turtles and is one of two living kinds in the genus Lepidochelys.

A potential hawksbill nest is presently awaiting verification by the FWC. A sample kit has been sent to permit holder Donna Larson.

Hawksbills are also a critically endangered species. The genus is large compared with other sea turtles and can grow up to about 45 inches in shell length and weigh around 150 pounds. Hawksbills have narrow heads and hawk-like beaks, hence their name. The hawksbill turtle usually nests during the day, and there have been several verified hawksbill nests in Englewood this season, so volunteers are hopeful that this nest will soon hatch and be verified.

There are also two green sea turtle nests awaiting verification by the FWC, one on zone 5 and one on zone 6.

FWC verifies all species other than the loggerhead via photographic or physical evidence. Last week, some fishermen found and rescued a rare green turtle that probably had an unfortunate encounter with a boat propeller. The turtle suffered a cracked carapace and a head injury. FWC alerted BGSTA, and permit holder Donna Larson picked up the turtle and transported it to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. Unfortunately, the turtle experienced critical injuries and did not survive.

A patrol volunteer said the ongoing storms have created a loss of between 10 and 15 percent of the nests on the island. In some cases, just the stakes may have washed away, and the nest is still viable but can no longer be tracked. In other instances, especially at the north and south ends of the island, the nests have been lost to erosion.

Once a new nest is discovered, patrol members excavate it and count each egg. The information is then sent to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, where it is entered in a national database. These data help track the health and activities of the species. The first island hatches should be happening any day now.

Donations for turtle patrol are always appreciated. Items currently needed include: black permanent markers, large and small Ziploc bags, latex gloves, rubber mallets, bright yellow paint, 5-gallon cans and 3/8”x1.5”x48” stakes.

Monetary donations are always welcome. Please send them to BGSTA, PO Box 966, Boca Grande, FL 33921. BGSTA is actively looking for volunteers.

Training and supplies are provided. If you’re available for a few hours in the morning a few days a week to assist, go to facebook.com/seaturtleawareness to find out more details.