What will this sea turtle nesting season look like amidst the coronavirus pandemic?

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Leatherback sea turtles. (Wikipedia photo)
Leatherback sea turtles. (Wikipedia photo)

It’s not officially time to monitor sea turtles on Sanibel yet, but with empty beaches, who will be keeping tabs?

“The whole world is working its way through an unprecedented situation,” says David Godfrey, Executive Director for the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

In another unprecedented situation—“This leatherback false crawl that we saw last week was the earliest crawl on record for our beaches which includes Sanibel and Captiva,” said Kelly Sloan, sea turtle program coordinator for the Sanibel-Captive Conservation Foundation.

SCCF doesn’t officially start monitoring sea turtle nesting until mid-April. Members know this time around will look a little different.

“The biggest challenge is that we’ll be operating without the help of our amazing team of almost 100 volunteers,” Sloan said.

As SCFF is able to use staff from other departments to keep an eye on turtles, groups like the Sea Turtle Conservancy have to put some operations on hold.

“We also have a really extensive lighting project where we work with beachfront property owners,” Godfrey said. “Now, all of that work in Southwest Florida is kind of on hold.”

Not only is COVID-19 causing operational changes, but it’s leading to quieter beaches.

“I think that could be the silver lining in all of this craziness,” says Sloan. “We are hopeful that, not only for the sea turtles but for the shorebirds, there might be a little less foot traffic on the beach.”

But time will only tell for our flippered friends.

Turtle monitoring groups would like to remind folks with beachfront properties to turn off lights visible from the beach at night, bury holes and bring in beach furniture.

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