Ecological Associates, Inc. (“EAI”) continues to survey approximately 50 miles of high-density sea turtle nesting beaches along Florida’s east coast during sea turtle nesting season (March 1st – October 31st). On February 16, 2023, EAI documented the first leatherback nest in the state of Florida for the 2023 nesting season! In our survey area in Volusia County, EAI also documented the earliest leatherback nest on record for the county on March 30, 2023, beating the previous record of April 2, 2022, by a few days!
During 2022, our team documented a total of 16,844 loggerhead, 4,118 green turtle, and 596 leatherback nests across all permitted survey areas. The first nest was a leatherback nest documented on February 17th on Jupiter Island, Martin County. Our last documented nest was a green turtle nest on October 28th in St. Lucie County. The Turtle Department staff performed nighttime sea turtle monitoring for four active nourishment projects in Martin, St. Lucie, St. Johns, and Miami-Dade Counties. Long-term nesting trends observed in EAI’s survey areas are generally consistent with statewide patterns. Currently, EAI monitors beaches in Volusia, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties.
We sponsored nine Turtle Walks in 2022. The Turtle Walk Program allows guests to observe a nesting loggerhead while laying eggs at night under the supervision of a trained biologist. Since 2018, EAI has also hosted its Public Excavation Program in partnership with Florida Oceanographic Society. EAI held nine programs in Martin and St. Lucie County and four programs with the City of Delray Beach. EAI monitors a selected nest then excavates the contents after it has hatched to evaluate how many eggs successfully hatched and how many hatchlings successfully made it out of the nest. Four Hatchling Walk Programs sponsored by the St. Lucie County Environmental Resources Department were provided to members of the community to observe sea turtle crawls and a hatchling release before sunrise. In 2022, EAI also participated in Delray Beach’s Sharkfest with the Sandoway Discovery Center, hosted a booth at the Oxbow Eco-Center for the St. Lucie Earth Day Festival, and attended Firefest at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
We look forward to continuing to educate our community by providing the following public outreach programs in 2023: Nighttime Sea Turtle Walks, Public Excavation Programs, and Guided Nature Hatchling Walk Programs. EAI will host a total of thirteen turtle walks this season, which is more than ever before! We will host four turtle walks with sponsorship from Martin and St. Lucie Counties, and EAI will sponsor a turtle walk for the Florida Association of Environmental Professionals. A new partnership with Martin County’s Ecotourism Division will allow us to provide four extra Public Excavation Programs in 2023 as well. EAI has also already been involved in community outreach this year by hosting educational booths at the Indian River County STEAM Fest and the H2O Fest in Martin County. Our staff will also be at the 2023 Earth Day Festival at the Oxbow Eco-Center on April 22, 2023.
Please be sure to follow Ecological Associates, Inc. on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to stay informed on our outreach programs! The 2023 Nighttime Sea Turtle Walks will take place on Tuesdays in June and July. Public Excavation Programs will take place on Friday mornings in July and August.
During the nesting season, you can help nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings by reducing artificial lights, removing beach furniture and other items from the beach at night, and filling in holes on the beach. However, please do not handle sea turtles, their hatchlings, or their eggs. Throughout the year, you can protect sea turtles by reducing plastic use and picking up trash on our beaches and waterways. Unfortunately, boating and fishing related injuries are still common causes of sea turtle deaths, but carefully disposing of fishing line and obeying no wake zones can reduce the number of negative human impacts on turtles.
The figure above represents annual nesting numbers by species along approximately 10 miles of beach on Hutchinson Island from the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County to the Normandy public beach access in St. Lucie County over the past 5 years (2018-2022).