2017 (and early-2018!) Sea Turtle Nesting Report

Now that the 2018 sea turtle nesting season has begun, we thought it would be a nice time to recap the 2017 nesting season. EAI attended a statewide workshop recently hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission where it was reported that a total of 150,651 nests were laid in Florida last year. Loggerheads far outnumbered the other species, laying 96,866 nests. Green turtles deposited a notable 53,102 nests, and leatherbacks laid 663 nests. Ten rare Kemp’s ridley nests were also documented. There were a few other nests that might have been laid by hawksbill turtles, another rare species, but those nests must be confirmed by genetic testing.

Last nest of the season hatched 1/22/2018 on Hutchinson Island, FL.

Locally, our last remaining incubating green turtle nest on Hutchinson Island successfully hatched on January 22nd. This means EAI monitored incubating nests for 11 of the 12 months last year! St. Lucie County had a record high 991 green turtle nests, which represented a 24% increase over the previous record number of nests (recorded in 2015). Loggerhead nesting in Martin County decreased in 2017, with 9,430 documented nests, down from the previous record high of 12,413 nests recorded in 2016. Brevard County has the highest loggerhead nest density in the state and recorded 23,377 nests last year!

Unfortunately, local beaches were not spared the negative effects of Hurricane Irma. A high percentage of late season green turtle nests were lost due to the high wind and surf conditions, with some loggerhead and leatherback nests affected as well. All hope is not lost for those turtles that lost their nests, however. Since turtles tend to lay several clutches during nesting years, and nest every two to three years, their overall populations are resilient to impacts from periodic storm events.


Local Water Quality Monitoring

The importance of water quality is hard to overstate in Florida and especially in EAI’s community. Our home office is only five miles from the confluence of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. Headlines about water quality often refer to our state and federal agencies, but we’d like to call attention to the important efforts our local governments undertake to improve Florida’s water quality. In our backyard, EAI is currently working with the City of Stuart and Martin County on water quality improvement projects.

The Martin County Carter Park Stormwater Treatment Area.

The City of Stuart recently completed two construction projects aimed at improving the quality of stormwater discharges in smaller-scale, urban watersheds. The Poppleton Creek project created 1.4 acres of tidal wetlands, restored 2.8 acres of red mangrove wetland, and removed exotic vegetation. The Heart of Haney Creek project regraded and created berms and weirs across six acres to form a stormwater treatment area for runoff from the Haney Creek watershed. To assess the effectiveness of these projects, EAI is collecting discrete and flow-weighted composite samples from the inflow and outflow control structures. The testing lab measured ammonia, nitrogen, phosphorous, heavy metal, and bacteria levels. Results will be analyzed and reported over the course of a year to meet grant-funding requirements. Martin County’s Engineering Department oversees more than 120 acres of stormwater treatment areas and contracted with EAI to assist in their management. EAI’s role includes controlling exotic vegetation, monitoring muck accumulation, and testing certain water quality parameters, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, hardness, dissolved oxygen, and pH. This monitoring provides Martin County Engineering staff with the information they need to actively manage their facilities and keep them working optimally. EAI is proud to be a part of our local government teams, doing their part to ensure our water quality.

Cat Island Restoration Summary

The Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program (MsCIP) is a decade in the making as a congressionally ordered program to provide for coastal resiliency in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District completed several smaller projects and has started construction on the large-scale projects, including restoration of Cat Island and Ship Island. Cat Island restoration was completed in 2017 and Phase I of the Ship Island restoration began in 2017. The Cat Island Restoration Project restored 3 miles of beach and dune along its eastern shoreline, utilizing a borrow area 1.5 miles offshore. The Mobile District consulted with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the resulting Biological Opinion required daily surveys for sea turtle and shorebird nesting and weekly migratory shorebird surveys. EAI then monitored the project for Manson Construction during the restoration.

Between May 16 and November 9, 2017, a total of 10 nests and 7 false crawls were documented for loggerhead turtles. The average clutch size was 114, with a minimum of 93 eggs and a maximum of 143 eggs. The shortest incubation period was 58 days and the longest 64 days. A single American oystercatcher nest and one willet chick were observed on Cat Island. The American oystercatcher nest contained two eggs, both of which hatched! A total of 25,262 individual birds representing 48 species of avifauna were documented. Sandwich terns were the most common species observed. Both piping plovers and red knots were documented, during 11 surveys and 5 surveys, respectively. A total of 40 piping plovers and 137 red knots were recorded.

A loggerhead hatchling making its way from Cat Island’s beach to the Gulf of Mexico.

Given Cat Island’s remote location and infrequent biological monitoring, EAI feels fortunate to have contributed data to one of Mississippi’s barrier islands!

EAI’s Grant Baysinger documents a false crawl on Cat Island.

EAI Employee Happenings

Congratulations to Trish Sposato and Kyle Evans for their continued education through the Florida Master Naturalist program. Kyle completed the Coastal Systems module in November and Trish completed the Upland Systems module in February. This is the third Master Naturalist module completed by Trish and thus earns her full certification as a Florida Master Naturalist, completing 120 hours of training! EAI is happy to welcome a new and esteemed member. Cindy Lott has joined our team as a Senior Scientist and brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience. Cindy recently retired from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection after many years of service but wasn’t ready to hang her hat up yet. Welcome Cindy…we’re glad you’re here and we’re learning from you already!