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Sea Turtles


Sea Turtles
 

Florida Sea Turtle Species

Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program

Interpretive Programs

Sea Turtles On The Beach 

Threats

Sea Turtle Lighting

Report an Injured Sea Turtle

 

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles, a marine reptile, are one of the planet's most ancient creatgreen sea turtleures, having been around since the time when dinosaurs roamed - over 110 million years ago. Today, seven different species of sea turtles live throughout the world with each species classified as either threatened or endangered. Of these, five species of sea turtles call Florida's waters home and three species; the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), and the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) nest regularly on Broward County's beaches from April through September of each year. Loggerhead sea turtle nests are the most commonly found in the area, historically accounting for over 90% of all sea turtle nests in Broward County. In fact, the beaches from the Space Coast to Gold Coast of Florida represent the second most important nesting area in the world for loggerhead sea turtles. 

Florida Sea Turtle Species

Sea turtles have a comparable life history to humans and are thought to live up to 80 years in the wild. Captive sea turtles have been observed to live over 50 years. There is generally no difference in size between adult female and male sea turtles, but males can be distinguished by its longer tail. These creatures range from just over 30 inches long and 80-100 lbs. (Kemp's Ridley sea turtle) to around 8 feet reaching up to 2,000 lbs. (Leatherback sea turtle). Green sea turtles can grow up to 5 feet in length and 400 lbs. while Loggerhead sea turtles are commonly about 3 feet and 200 pounds as adults. 

A sea turtle can stay submerged underwater for extended periods of time although a feeding dive usually only lasts for 5 minutes or less.  A green sea turtle has been recorded as remainingloggerhead turtle underwater for up to 5 hours at a time!  During this period, their heart rate slows drastically to conserve oxygen and up to nine minutes may pass between heartbeats.

These creatures are most commonly found in warm and temperate waters around the world and have been known to travel hundreds and sometimes more than a thousand miles between their nesting beaches and feeding grounds.  A sea turtle’s diet can differ greatly depending on its age as well as species.  Some sea turtles only consume meat like crabs, shrimp and snails, while others prefer plants such as algae and seaweed.  Several species have been known to switch from a meat based diet when they’re young to a strictly plant based diet once matured.  Other commonly consumed sea turtle snacks include jellyfish, sponges and mollusks.  These different diet preferences are a major reason why you can notice disparities in the overall jaw structure of the different species of sea turtles.

Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program

Broward County Survey Areas

Beach

Beach Length (miles)

Boundries

FDEP Survey Marker #

Hillsboro-Deerfield Beach

4.35

Palm Beach Co. line to Hillsboro Inlet

R1-24

Pompano Beach including Lauderdale-By-The-Sea

4.78

Hillsboro Inlet to Commercial Blvd.

R25-50

Fort Lauderdale

6.59

Commercial Blvd. to Port Everglades Inlet

R51-85

John U. Lloyd State Park

2.42

Port Everglades Inlet to Dania Beach

R86-96

Dania, Hallandale, Hollywood

5.84

Dania Beach to Miami Dade Co. line

R97-128 

The Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program conducts daily sea turtle nesting surveys from March 1 - October 31st on the entire coastline of Broward County from the northern border with Palm Beach County to the southern border with Miami-Dade County, excluding the beach at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park.

Daily sea turtle surveys allows for monitoring associated with permitted beach cleaning, coastal protection projects, and special events on the beach. It is one of the most comprehensive sea turtle conservation programs in the state of Florida.

During the morning surveys accurate counts of the total number of nests laid, the number of false crawls, as well as turtle species are identified within the survey arearelocating a nest and recorded.  A secure marking device is placed at all nest sites, and in certain areas of the County nests are outfitted with cages for additional protection.

After the incubation period and emergence of hatchlings, the nests are excavated to get clutch data. Live hatchlings from inventoried nests or disorientation events, are released at appropriate times and locations to insure maximum survival of released turtles. Hatchlings that emerge after 07:00 are held (in dark, dry containers, at room temperature) for release until after 21:00 on the day they emerged. If hatchlings are deemed not fit for release during the night after their emergence then they can be held in accordance with FWC guidelines for 2-3 days or until their fitness state has improved enough for release.

Interpretive Programs

The Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program promotes sea turtle biology, ecology, andgreen hatchlings conservation education. In addition to the popular hatchling release programs at Ann Kolb Nature Center, outreach events conducted by the Program may include, but are not limited to: public turtle watches; educational presentations at schools, festivals, public events, summer camps or other gatherings; and public hatch success evaluations.

Other organizations offer night-time guided sea turtle walks to hopefully observe a turtle while nesting firsthand. If planning to attend a turtle walk, always call to set up an appointment as all programs are very popular and there is limited capacity. Note that the dates and start times of these walks will vary, as will the ending times. Additionally, be prepared as there may be a charge for participation and some walking on beach sand. Please remember there are NO GUARANTEES that you will see a turtle!

Walks and Hatchling Release

Turtle Walks -

• Key Biscayne: Crandon Park Visitors' and Nature Center
6767 Crandon Blvd., 305-361-6767 ext 112. Walks are 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations required.
• Miami Beach: Haulover Beach Park
10800 Collins Ave., 305-361-6767 ext 112. Walks are 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Reservations required.
• Dania Beach: John Lloyd Park
6503 N. Ocean Dr., 954-923-2833. Walks are 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. Reservations required.
• Fort Lauderdale: Museum of Discovery and Science
401 SW Second Pl., 954-713-0930 www.mods.org. Reservations required.
• Boca Raton: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
1801 N. Ocean Blvd. 561-338-1473 www.gumbolimbo.org. Reservations required.

Hatchling Releases -

• Hollywood: Anne Kolb Nature Center at West Lake Park
751 Sheridan St, 954-926-2480.
Walks are 8-10 p.m. Wednesday and Friday nights. Reservations required.
• Boca Raton: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center 1801 N. Ocean Blvd. 561-338-1473 www.gumbolimbo.org. Reservations required.

Sea Turtles On The Beach

Nesting
The nesting season in Broward County begins in early March each year with leatherbacks, loggerheads in April and then greens in the end of May (see Figure 1).  However, leatherbacks are less predictable and can nest as early as February. Nesting continues through the end of September, with the peak season for loggerheads being the end of June and the beginning of July.

nesting data per day
Figure 1: Broward County nests per day indicating nesting seasons by species. Loggerheads are represented by the blue boxes on the left. Leatherbacks are marked by red X, and greens are denoted by the green boxes.


If undisturbed, the females emerge from the ocean crawling up the beach where they dig an eggadult green digging a nest chamber cavity. After resting they deposit approximately 100 golf-ball size eggs (for loggerheads). Then the back flippers gently cover the eggs with sand using it to camouflage the exact location of the egg chamber.  Lastly, they leave the nest site to reenter the water, never meeting their young.

A single female may nest several times during a season and then not again for one or two years.
    
Approximately half of all emergences result in a female crawling on the beach for long distances and reentering the water without digging a net (see image). These are called "false crawls" and usually occur because the turtle was disturbed or it could not find a suitable nest site. The crawl tracks, resembling tractor tire tracks, left on the beach are always made by female sea turtles. Male sea turtles never leave the ocean.

 

green turtle nest
Sea turtle nest.



 

false crawl
Sea turtle false crawl; its upward
crawl starts on the right and its
downward crawl is the track on
the left.

nesting data
Figure 2: Broward County historical nesting data by species, year on the x axis and nest number on the y axis (percent on the y axis for Average Nesting Success graph). 2013 season totals are as follows: 17 nests and 17 false crawls for leatherbacks, 2260 nests and 2258 false crawls for loggerheads, and 466 nests and 311 false crawls for greens giving an overall nesting success of 51.62%, the highest historical average! (False crawl data is only included in the nesting success graph). Nesting for all 3 species continues on an overall increasing trend.


Hatching

Incubation of the nests in Broward County can take approximately 48-55 days.  The eggs depositedgreen emerging from nest in the chambers are normally left to incubate in situ or naturally. Nests that are at risk of human impact are relocated to a safer area of the beach or outfitted with a cage. After incubation, the hatchlings emerge from the nest en masse and, using various environmental and inherited cues, quickly migrate to the water's edge. If artificial lights are illuminating the beach, the hatchlings will be disoriented, travel in the wrong direction, wasting energy and possibly never making it to the water (see lighting section for more information).

Once in the water the hatchlings find sargassum seaweed mats which they eat and use as shelter. These seaweed patches can be found floating in the Gulf Stream current off of Florida (part of the North Atlantic Gyre that flows clockwise up the U.S. coast andloggerhead hatchlings eventually past the Azores). A paper recently published by Mansfield et al. 2012, found that a number of turtles dropped out of these outer currents into the center of the gyre and accumulated in the saragassum seaweed. Additionally this research revealed that the seaweed mats may keep these cold-blooded reptiles warm likely assisting with their growth. It was only very recently that researchers were able to track where the hatchlings spent their time during what was previously called “The Lost Years.” After 20 years or so only the female turtles will return to the beach! To find out more about the rest of sea turtles’ life and their movement between feeding and breeding grounds in the water please visit this paper: http://spo.nmfs.noaa.gov/mfr753/mfr7531.pdf.

Threats

Sea turtle populations have been seriously reduced world-wide through a number of humanexposed turtle nest influences including: artificial lighting, plastic and marine debris, beach erosion and coastal armoring, and commercial fishing. Other influences include: illegal sea turtle shell trade, oil spills, harvest for consumption, marine pollution, beach activities, and climate change. Natural pressures on sea turtles include predation. For these reasons all species of sea turtle are in an imperiled state that warrants legal protection.



 

Beach Furniture

Beach furniture can obstruct and entangle nesting sea turtles, but there are some simple steps to take that can reduce these potential impacts.
• Remove furniture from the beach every night by hand when possible
• Stack and arrange furniture to minimize interference
• Place furniture on the beach after 9 am to allow time for the sea turtle surveyors to monitor the area for new nests
• Place furniture at least 5 feet from any marked nest
• Avoid placing furniture on vegetation or any part of a dune feature
• Use umbrellas that clamp directly to the furniture or place the umbrella pole into an anchored holder or sleeve
turtle tracks over furniture

Predation

Although sea turtles can be agile in the water, on land they are not very mobile making them more susceptible to predation.  Even in a natural environment, sea turtles, particularly eggs and hatchlings, face a myriad of threats from predators.  Before even hatching, eggs are exposed to predators such as: raccoons, crabs, ants, coyotes and boars, which raid nests and destroy eggs.  In certain “hot spots” throughout the United States, up to 50% of all sea turtle nests are destroyed as a result of predation.  However, natural predation in Broward County impacts less than 10% of the nesting population. Humans sometimes unwillingly contribute to this problem by leaving trash/food on commonly nested beaches, attracting raccoons and other potential predators. Additionally, dogs have dug up sea turtle nests and attack hatchlings so it is important to keep them on a leash during nesting season.

When hatchlings enter the ocean, predation threats remain high as they make convenient snacks for birds, crabs, certain fish and other oceanic creatures.  Young sea turtles have been known to use the seaweed they feed on as shelter from these potential predators.  Once reaching the adult stage, which is not exactly an easy task, sea turtles are comparably far less vulnerable to predators besides the occasional shark attack.  Specifically, tiger sharks have been known to eat sea turtles every now and then while killer whales have been known to sometimes attack leatherback sea turtles.  Overall, these natural threats are not the predominant reason why sea turtle populations have been diminishing, as they have endured predation for over 100 million years.

Sea Turtle Lighting

Florida’s coastline has become increasingly developed over the past century introducing a new threat to sea turtles.  Artificial lighting is a major concern for these creatures, especially since hotels, condominiums and houses have come to tower much of the coast in south Florida.  Since female sea turtles prefer nesting at night, the presence of artificial lighting can deter these animals from constructing a nest.  Oftentimes, a sea turtle will emerge from the water in a highly lighted area, but fail to nest resulting in a false crawl.  After several failed false crawls, sea turtle mothers resort to releasing their eggs in the ocean or choosing an inferior location to build their nest and lay eggs.  Both of these scenarios significantly reduce the chance of survival for sea turtle hatchlings, which is already extremely low.

Additionally, artificial lighting can impact hatchlings.  Once out of their shell, baby sea turtles areoriented turtle tracks believed to possess a natural instinct to travel towards the brightest horizon.  On a typical undeveloped beach this tends to be towards the moonlight reflecting off of the vast ocean’s surface as coastal dunes and vegetation create dark silhouettes landward.  Today, the brightest area is usually in the opposite direction, towards the lighted structures lining the developed beach.  Therefore, newborn sea turtles may travel away from the water wasting energy and possibly never reaching the ocean.  Furthermore, these disoriented newborns are exposed to new threats including: dehydration, predation, exhaustion, drowning in nearby swimming pools and fatal contact with automobiles.

To some people light pollution along the coast may seem like a difficult obstacle to overcome.  However, it is estimated that roughly 1/3 of lighting is wasted throughout the United States due to various reasons (Sea Turtle Conservancy, 2014).  This wasted lighting uses a substantial amount of energy each year- around 30 million barrels of oil and 2 million tons of coal, adding up to roughly 2 billion dollars annually.  Because of this artificial lighting retrofits can create a safer environment for sea turtles while simultaneously conserving energy and creating a sustainable coastline.

In order to combat excess artificial lighting pollution along the beaches of Florida, Broward County modified its Land Use Plan in 1996 to initiate The Broward County Beach Lighting Management Plan. Every coastal municipality within thedisoriented turtle tracks County was required to enact and enforce a lighting ordinance requiring people to turn off beachfront lighting during the sea turtle nesting season. The Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation program conducts beach lighting surveys at night, starting in March and ending in September in order to list and track lighted properties by street address. These surveys include, type of visibility (direct or indirect), location of lights on property, and photo documentation of lights. All property lights visible from the beach are documented and provided to respective code enforcement officers.

If you or someone you know currently resides on a beachfront property, there are several simple measures you can take to substantially lessen the impact of artificial lighting on sea turtles:

• Install low pressure sodium vapor lights (LPS) rather than normal lights
• Turn off lights visible from nesting beaches or install special fixtures to shield lights from the beach
• Call local law enforcement or the Sea Turtle Emergency Line 954-328-0580 if disoriented sea turtle hatchlings are found away or heading away from the beach
• Purchase Turtle Safe Lighting- red lights that give off a far less portion of the light spectrum and are less impactful on nesting sea turtles and hatchlings
o This website will help you locate your new fixture or bulb with confidence that it is sea turtle friendly: http://darksky.org/ida-fixture-seal-of-approval/search-approved-fixtures
• Cover windows visible to the beach after the sun sets with opaque curtains or blinds
• Tint beach facing windows

Please contact 954-519-1255 if you have specific questions on municipal Lighting Ordinances within the County or if you are seeking technical assistance for fixture or bulb retrofits.

Artificial lighting is currently one of the most prominent threats to sea turtles’ existence.  In the future, light pollution could increasingly affect nesting sea turtles and hatchlings, unless a greater effort is exerted by local communities.   As the coastline of Florida will continue to develop, it is important for everyone to make these minor changes in order to reduce human impact on the natural environment.

Report an Injured Sea Turtle

The Program also maintains a "Sea Turtle Emergency Response" cell-phone number. This number isworkers with an injured turtle advertised locally for the purpose of reporting information about injured or stranded turtles, disoriented hatchling turtles, poaching, and dead sea turtles that have washed ashore. the Program always notifies FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN) each time they respond to a stranding event.

BROWARD COUNTY SEA TURTLE EMERGENCY HOTLINE IS 954-328-0580.

FWC's 24-hour Wildlife Alert Number at 1-888-404-3922

If you observe an adult sea turtle or hatchling on the beach, please adhere to the following rules and guidelines:

It is normal for sea turtles to be crawling on the beach on summer nights. DO NOT report crawling or nesting (digging or laying eggs) activity on the published SEA TURTLE EMERGENCY LINE unless the animal is in a dangerous situation (on a road, in a parking lot, etc. or has wandered well off the beach).

Stay far away from crawling or nesting sea turtles. Although the urge to observe closely will be great, please resist the urge. Nesting is a critical stage in the sealive loggerhead turtle turtle's life cycle. Please leave them undistrubed.

DO REPORT all stranded (dead, injured, or apparently healthy) turtles to the SEA TURTLE EMERGENCY LINE. Report all turtles that have not moved for 30 minutes or longer.

Never handle hatchling sea turtles. If you observe hatchlings wandering away from the ocean or on the beach, call the SEA TURTLE EMERGENCY LINE immediately.

hatchling loggerheads

Photo credits  
Green sea turtle - Matt Ware
Loggerhead turtle - Lisa Morse
Relocating a nest - Jessica Novy
Green hatchlings - Jamie Ahn
Adult green diggin a nest - Matt Ware
Green turtle nest - unknown
False crawl - Lisa Morse
Green emerging from nest - Lisa Morse
Loggerhead hatchlings - Laura Eldredge
Exposed turtle nest - Laura Eldredge
Turtle tracks over furniture - Jessica Novy
Oriented turtle tracks - unknown
Disoriented turtle tracks - unknown
Workers with injured turtle - Laura Eldredge
Live loggerhead turtle - Laura Eldredge
Hatchling loggerheads - Lisa Morse