Endangered leatherback sea turtle nesting season begins in Florida

Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:
sea turtle
Boy watches a leatherback sea turtle lay a clutch of eggs. CREDIT: FWC

Pretty soon, small areas of beaches will be taped off, as nesting season gets underway for an endangered sea turtle species in Florida.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, reports of close to a dozen leatherback sea turtle nests have been sent to the institute, and the nesting season is between March and July.

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Sea turtle nest. CREDIT: WINK News

Leatherback turtles will nest every two or three years, creating several nets each season. The endangered species will lay about 80 eggs per clutch.

While Lee County beaches are a known nesting ground for leatherback turtles, the species primarily nests on the east coast of Florida. On the east coast, the endangered species will nest from Martin to Palm Beach counties.

During the 2023 nesting season, FWCRI counted at least 1,711 leatherback sea turtle nests.

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Where leatherback turtles will lay nests. CREDIT: FWC

The leatherback sea turtle is the largest species of turtle in the world, weighing up to 1,500 pounds and reaching 6 feet long.

Though record numbers of nests were found in 2023, areas like Captiva and Sanibel saw the numbers of nests plummet.

Captiva saw a meager 2,268 sea turtle hatchlings emerge, equivalent to a 10% success rate. While on Sanibel, 24,961 hatchlings emerged, equal to a slightly improved 32% success rate.

β€œWhile we should be encouraged by these impressive nest numbers and proud of the ongoing conservation efforts leading up to this point, they only tell half the story,” said SCCF Coastal Wildlife Director and Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Kelly Sloan.

Taking a step in the right direction, a grant worth more than $7 million was awarded from the Florida Division of Emergency Management to help sea turtles that nest on Fort Myers Beach.

Beach development is a land-based threat to the endangered species. As development continues on beaches it shrinks the amount of space the turtles can use for nests. It also adds to artificial lighting which can be fatal to turtle hatchlings.

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Leatherback hatchling emerging from nest. CREDIT: FWC

FWCRI reminds people to avoid using lights on the beach and to bring down beach-facing curtains and blinds. This helps hatchlings know which way the ocean is and gives the endangered species a better chance to survive.

Some of the primary threats facing the species in the water are getting tangled in fishing gear, such as longlines, monofilament fishing lines, nets and crab trap lines. The endangered species is also illegally harvested for their meat and eggs.

Click here for more information on leatherback sea turtles from FWC.

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