Turtle nesting on track for record season at Sanibel-Captiva beaches

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

Despite Hurricane Ian, Sanibel-Captiva beaches are on track to have a record sea turtle nesting season. So far, over 500 nests have scattered across the beaches.

Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation’s sea turtle team monitors nests and tags nesting females.

As the sun begins to set, SCCF’s sea turtle team’s work is just getting started.

“So tonight, we’re gonna do one of our typical like routine nighttime tagging surveys,” said Jack Brzoza SCCF biologist. “We’re trying to find nesting females, as they’re coming onshore to lay their eggs.”

The team traverses 18 miles from Bowman’s Beach to the Sanibel lighthouse back and forth from 9 at night until 5:30 in the morning.

“We’re out there in the dark,” Brzoza said. “We don’t want to use any white light, because it’s really discouraging for the turtles and hatchlings as well, as we start having nests begin to hatch. More often than we see the turtle, we see the track. So where the turtles crawled up the beach, you know, at that point, we’ll stop. You know, we’ll wait a little bit we’ll assess maybe where the turtle is what she’s doing.”

In this case, laying her eggs, each flipper move is a contraction.

“So right now she’s finished covering her egg chamber, and she’s starting to use her front flippers to kind of camouflage so she’s moving a lot of sand around, and an effort to sort of disguise and kind of obscure where exactly that clutch is located at,” Brzoza said.

The team checks for tags and checks to see if the turtles have been tagged before.

“To see if we can identify them as an individual,” Brzoza said.

“We just looked her up in the data book and this is Ella Fitzgerald,” said Kayla Hopper, SCCF nighttime tagging intern. “We’ll apply tags, if they don’t have them. We’ll take morphometric data. So measurements.”

“We can record, you know, any injuries or abnormalities with that turtle, epi biotic loads, things like that, and kind of get a sense of our nesting population a little bit,” Brzoza said.

Once she heads to the gulf, the team marks the nest, placing a cage over the eggs and creates a barrier around the nest.

By tagging the animals, scientists create a roadmap of their lives.

“So we can get a sense of these life histories, we can kind of see, as these turtles are recruiting to the nesting beach, we can identify them as tags, know where they were coming from, where they’re spending their, you know, foraging grounds and protecting those areas,” Brzoza said. “These are areas we need to protect, because the turtles need that to continue to survive and prosper.”

The team has encountered 158 turtles so far this season and have tagged 75, three of those on Friday night.

The rest were tagged between 2016 and 2021.

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