Sea turtle nesting numbers broke a 31-year record in late July on beaches from Longboat Key through Venice, surpassing any annual count since 1991 - the first year of local nest monitoring by Mote Marine Laboratory. Mote is seeking donations of equipment and funding to meet the demands of this unusual year. (Click here for ways to help.)
So far this year, 2,324 loggerhead sea turtle nests and three of the rarer green sea turtle nests have been documented by Mote's Sea Turtle Patrol - a group of scientists, interns and more than 300 volunteers who monitor 35 miles of local nesting beaches each day of nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31. Even though nesting season is still in progress, these counts have already exceeded the previous record of 1,972 nests in 1995.
This year's high numbers are helping offset losses from Tropical Storm Debby, which destroyed an estimated 950 nests. The storm also destroyed many of Mote's basic supplies used to document, mark and protect nests on local beaches.
"Between responding to the storm and documenting this large number of nests, our staff has been working extra hours and we're running low on many important supplies, right when we need them most," said Dr. Tony Tucker, Manager of Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program.
Mote is seeking donations of key supplies such as wooden stakes for marking nests, welded wire for cages and screens to protect nests, paper for data recording, batteries for GPS units and cameras to document nests, paint and painting supplies for nest-marker stakes and more. Mote is also seeking funding to support a seasonal technician to help with this year's additional workload. This position requires special training in protocols related to excavating hatched nests and protecting nests from predators.
While much of Mote's sea turtle research and conservation is supported by major fundraisers, government contracts and grants, there is no "emergency" fund to ease the demands of this unusual year.
For a full list of specific supplies needed and ways to help, please go to www.mote.org/turtlehelp
. To make a donation, visit www.mote.org/donate
(select "Research at Mote Marine Laboratory" and type "sea turtle research" in the comments box below). To make an in-kind donation of supplies, please contact Kathy Klingensmith at 941-388-4441, ext. 308 or email@example.com
"It's important that we have the necessary support, not only to document this year's stand-out numbers, but also to continue our consistent monitoring of local sea turtle nesting for the 31st year," Tucker said. "Long-term data is crucial for understanding population trends in sea turtles, which are long-lived and generally nest every two to four years."
Loggerheads are a threatened species whose statewide nesting numbers have generally declined since 1998, but since 2007 have seemed to be stabilizing on Florida beaches, including Mote's patrol area.
"We've had a few years of increasing loggerhead numbers here, and this year might be record-breaking on many beaches in the Southeastern U.S.," Tucker said. "We're very interested in understanding the potential trends and their underlying causes."
Loggerhead nesting in Florida has gone through periods of increase and decrease lasting about a decade each - patterns that seem to be influenced by the North Atlantic Oscillation, a naturally occurring climate phenomenon that causes broad-scale weather and ocean patterns in the North Atlantic.
Even with long-term climate patterns at work, it is important to note that human activities strongly affect sea turtle nesting and survival. All sea turtle species are considered threatened or endangered and are protected by state and federal laws.
To better understand and protect these ancient reptiles, Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program has tagged more than 4,000 nesting sea turtles for identification, documented 1.5 million hatchlings' departure to begin their lives at sea and led numerous other long-term research projects.
Learn more about Mote's sea turtle research and conservation at www.mote.org/seaturtles
and show your support at www.mote.org/turtlehelp
For weekly nesting counts for local beaches posted each Monday, visit www.mote.org/2012nesting
See frequently-asked questions about local nesting at www.mote.org/seaturtlebrochure
Sea turtle nests have begun hatching on local beaches, so it's especially important to keep beaches clear for hatchlings trying to reach the sea. Below are tips for keeping our beaches turtle friendly.
If you encounter a nesting turtle, remain quiet and observe from a distance
Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October
Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water
Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water
Place trash in its proper place
Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, or shine lights at turtles
Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach
Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water
Use fireworks on the beach