CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Many Florida beaches reported a record sea turtle nesting season this year, but some Gulf coast communities were unable to fully recover from Hurricane Idalia in August.
In a news release Friday, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) announced that of the 75 nests on Pinellas County beaches, only 14 were recovered after the storm. The aquarium’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program monitors about 21 miles of shoreline.
“Unfortunately, the nests pre-Idalia were almost all lost due to the high tides and flooding on our barrier islands,” Carly Oakley, senior biologist of the Sea Turtle Conservation Program, said.
The loss dealt a blow to an already lackluster sea turtle nesting season. There were 227 nests observed this year, compared to 313 in 2022.
CMA expected a lower nesting year, as sea turtles tend to lay nests on a three-year cycle.
“Female sea turtles lay multiple nests in one season. There can be anywhere between 80-120 eggs in each nest,” Oakley explained. “After the season, they tend to take a one to two-year break in between breeding seasons. The nesting process is very exhausting and, in this break, females regain the energy necessary to do the process again.”
Despite seeing fewer nests, CMA reported some successes this season. Their patrollers discovered that multiple species of sea turtle chose to nest in the area.
About 12,000 hatchlings reached the ocean, despite the risk of disorientation from artificial light and other hazards along the beach. CMA reported 100 disorientation events this season, involving both hatchlings and nesting turtles.
“We are still seeing problems with our artificial lighting in our area,” Oakley said. “We may not have had as many nests, but we did still have a lot of hatchling disorientations this season.”
Conservation organizations like CMA are working to educate beachside residents and tourists on ways to keep turtles safe. It’s as simple as closing their blinds at night and filling in holes on the beach when they leave for the day.
“Those things can make a big difference to our sea turtles,” Oakley said. “One quote to live by is, ‘leave nothing but your footprints in the sand.’ Even items such as leftover beach chairs and tents can be detrimental to our nesting females and cause them to choose to not nest but instead head back to the water.”
If beachgoers spot hatchlings headed in the wrong direction or if they see someone harassing a nesting female, they should contact wildlife officials. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s stranding line can be reached at (727) 441-1790, ext. 1.
Anyone who encounters a dead, sick or injured sea turtle is urged to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 24-hour Wildlife Alert Number at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922).