Another dead sea turtle has been found on a loca beach, this time at the very northern tip of the island.
According to one sea turtle patroller, Marilyn Googins, she found it at the “northern end of zone 1 on Friday, May 15.”
“There is a walkway easement off Sunset Pines Circle and it was on the beach at the base of this walkway,” said island turtle patrol coordinator Maureen McConnell. “I was on zone 8 at the southern end of the island. By the time I finished my zone and got there the turtle had been washed out. I asked all patrollers to watch for it, but it never came back in. I finally gave up and filed a stranding report with the FWC yesterday.”
Marilyn’s first reaction was that the turtle might have died in a boating accident, but they really don’t know at this time.
“It also could have been a shark,” Maureen said.
Male loggerheads never return to land. Females are nocturnal nesters that return to the beach every two to four years. McConnell said the important thing to remember is that they lay three to six nests per season.
“These nest are laid 12 to 14 days apart, and have 100 to 130 eggs each,” she said. “In the time between nests, they are waiting in the waters off the beach. Boaters must be extra cautious now, and for the next three months.”
Loggerheads are designated as a threatened species.
The first hatchlings of the season emerge from nests approximately eight weeks after the first nesting of the season, and this activity continues for up to eight weeks after the final nesting of the season. Outside the tropics, hatchlings generally emerge throughout the summer and early fall. In the southeastern USA, hatchlings emerge throughout the months of June, July, August, September, and October.
It is a myth that hatchlings emerge only around the time of the full moon. Hatchlings ready to emerge wait just beneath the sand surface until conditions become cool. This temperature cue prompts them to emerge primarily at night, although some late-afternoon and early-morning emergences have been documented. Sea turtle hatchlings have an inborn tendency to move in the brightest direction. On a natural beach, the brightest direction is most often the open view of the night sky over, and reflected by, the ocean. Hatchlings also tend to move away from darkly silhouetted objects associated with the dune profile and vegetation. This sea-finding behavior can take place during any phase and position of the moon, which indicates that hatchlings do not depend on lunar light to lead them seaward.
Hatchlings that crawl toward artificial light sources are following the same instinctive response that leads them seaward on naturally lighted beaches. The apparent brightness and glare of artificial lighting is what often leads hatchlings astray. To a hatchling on a beach, an artificial light source appears bright because it is relatively close by, yet it is not intense enough to brighten the sky and landscape. The resulting glare makes the direction of the artificial source appear overwhelmingly bright-so much brighter than the other directions that hatchlings will ignore other visual cues and move toward the artificial light no matter where it is relative to the sea.
There are other lights near my beachfront property that are visible from the beach. Why should I modify my lights?
Any reduction in the amount of artificial light reaching the nesting beach helps sea turtles. As lighting is reduced, hatchlings emerging on moonlit nights and at locations far from the lighted property will have a better chance of finding the sea.
Can hatchlings be protected by increasing the number of lights on a nesting beach in order to prevent turtles from nesting?
Although artificial lighting tends to deter sea turtles from nesting, many do nest on lighted beaches. Apparently, the level of artificial lighting necessary to misdirect hatchlings is well below the level necessary to deter nesting. But even if beaches were lighted to the extent that no nesting occurred, hatchlings on adjacent beaches would be harmed. Regardless, chasing sea turtles away from nesting beaches means that important habitat is lost to them; therefore, it is not a beneficial conservation strategy.
How bright can a light be without affecting hatchlings or adult sea turtles on the beach?
Unfortunately, no simple measure of light intensity can reveal whether a light source will be a problem. The effects of artificial lighting on sea turtles may actually increase as ambient light-levels decrease on darker, moonless nights. Because any visible light from an artificial source can cause problems, the most reliable “instruments” to use when making judgments about problem lighting may be the eyes of a human observer on the nesting beach. Any light source producing light that is visible from the beach is likely to cause problems for nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings.
What should be done with misdirected hatchlings found on the beach?
Hatchling sea turtles found wandering away from the ocean should be taken to a darkened portion of beach and allowed to walk into the surf on their own. Those that do not crawl vigorously can be placed in the water and allowed to swim away. In all cases, local natural resource or environmental protection agencies should be notified. (Call 1-888-404-FWCC).