Sea turtle nesting finishes strong on Longboat Key through Venice
Sea turtles laid a near-record number of nests from Longboat Key through Venice in 2017, report Mote Marine Laboratory scientists who monitor this 35-mile stretch of beaches each day of nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31.
Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program and its Sea Turtle Patrol volunteers documented 4,503 nests from all sea turtle species across Mote’s patrol area in Sarasota County. Of those, 4,424 were laid by threatened loggerhead sea turtles and 79 by threatened green sea turtles. Two nests in the loggerhead group were sampled for genetic testing to determine if they are hybrids from a loggerhead and green mating.
Though the total nest count did not surpass the record 4,588 nests in 2016, this year brought the highest-ever number of green sea turtle nests in Mote’s 36-year history of local sea turtle conservation. The combined loggerhead/green totals on Longboat, Lido and Siesta keys broke their individual records, while totals on Casey Key and Venice did not.
“We’ve had several years of high nest counts, and though we can’t predict the future definitively, we don’t see any reason to expect a decrease,” said Melissa Bernhard, staff biologist with Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program. “We’re looking forward to 2018. These sea turtles nest every two to three years, so we’ll expect to see many of the turtles from the record year in 2016 returning.”
Bernhard added: “The cool part about these high numbers is that we’re seeing a lot of new turtles.”
During this year’s night-time tagging effort on Casey Key, Mote scientists encountered sea turtles 591 times — identifying 380 distinct individuals. Of those individuals, 293 were “neophytes” documented and tagged for the first time. It’s not clear whether these turtles are young females that recently matured or whether they’ve previously gone “under the radar,” nesting on nearby beaches without tagging programs.
In any case, this year’s results continue an encouraging trend.