SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory have been monitoring sea turtle nests along 35 miles of Sarasota County for more than four decades.
This year is on track to be in the top five when it comes to nest numbers, but more hatchlings than usual are ending up heading inland instead of toward the water, according to officials with Mote.
“We unfortunately are seeing quite a lot of disorientations, particularly with the hatchlings. They seem to be more sensitive to the artificial lighting, so they go the wrong way a lot more easily than the adults,” senior biologist and conservation manager of the Sea Turtle Conservation Research Program at Mote Marine Lab Melissa Macksey said.
Mote has recorded more than 300 disorientations so far this nesting seasons. Last year, they saw around 250 for the entire season, which runs through the end of October.
“It is not directly comparable due to nesting numbers and other things, but still it is a little alarming,” Macksey said. “We see double digits in a day every now and then, but this year, it was like a couple weeks in a row where we were getting 10, 15, 20 disorientations in a single night.”
Other counties across Tampa Bay are seeing the same thing.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office posted a video from Anna Maria Island late last month where they helped relocate a number of baby sea turtles that ended up in a parking lot across the street from the beach. In early August, deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call where a group of hatchlings got lost trying to get out to sea. They were found in bushes, a hotel pool, and a storm drain near St. Pete Beach.
Macksey said the disorientations are caused by artificial light.
“There is something going on where either more people are here with the lights on whether it is intentional or not, it’s kind of irrelevant. They they are just using their instinct to get to the water and their instincts tell them the bright horizon is the water,” Macksey said. “So with artificial lights, they go inland, they end up in pools, parking lots, at predators feet just wasting energy going the wrong way.”
During nesting season, officials said it is critical to keep lights off the beach.
“Having a lot of nests on the beach is exciting and great, but if the nests aren’t successful and hatchlings aren’t getting to the water, it is not really contributing to the population as a whole or the conservation of the species. So we want to try to limit the problems that hatchlings are facing so more of them can make it to the water,” Macksey said.