Treasure Coast sea turtle numbers up in 2010 nesting seasonNovember 29th, 2010 by TCPalm.com
By Tyler Treadway
Despite offshore hurricanes that battered beaches and a hot, dry summer that sizzled sand, 2010 has been an excellent year for sea turtle nests on the Treasure Coast.
Both Jensen Beach-based Ecological Associates, which monitors sea turtle nests in southern St. Lucie County, northern Martin County and northern Indian River County and the coastal engineering division of the Indian River County Public Works Department, which oversees beaches in the southern half of that county, are reporting significant increases in loggerhead nests, the most populous sea turtle on the Treasure Coast.
The number of green turtle nests also increased significantly in both counties, while the number of leatherback nests increased slightly in Indian River County but decreased slightly in St. Lucie and Martin counties.
The sea turtle nesting season generally runs from early March into mid-November.
“The pop up in numbers this year is certainly encouraging,” said Erik Martin, scientific director at Jensen Beach-based Ecological Associates, “but it doesn’t mean there are no more concerns (about sea turtle populations). It doesn’t reverse an overall downward trend we’ve seen since the late 1990s. We are, however, cautiously optimistic.”
Rick Herren, an environmental specialist who monitors sea turtle nests in Indian River County, agreed.
“Our numbers for loggerhead nests increased by a lot,” Herren said. “The numbers aren’t back up to what we were seeing in the late 1990s, but they’re better than we’ve seen in the last five to seven years. That’s good news for the species.”
Martin and Herren also agreed long-term trends are more important than year-to-year comparisons because female sea turtles don’t nest every year.
“Sometimes they take a year, two years, even three years off,” Martin said. “It could be that this was a year when a lot of them happened to be nesting.”
That could mean a lower number of nests next year.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Herren said.
Martin said weather events over the course of the year didn’t appear to have much effect on nest numbers.
An extended cold snap in the early spring that killed some sea turtles and chilled some others affected mostly immature green turtles, he said.
“If there are any long-term effects,” Martin said, “we won’t know them for another 10 to 15 years when those turtles that died would have reached the age to start nesting.”
Martin said despite the numerous hurricanes and tropical storms that approached Florida and then turned north in the Atlantic, Treasure Coast beaches “were not dramatically changed by the weather this year,” and the number of turtle nests washed out by high tides and erosion was about normal.
Herren said the unusually dry and hot summer “meant very dry sand and, in some cases, a collapse of the nest egg chamber and suffocation of late-term embryos.”