EAI began daily sea turtle nesting surveys on March 1, 2019, covering approximately 50 miles of high-density sea turtle nesting beaches along Florida’s east coast. We are responsible for monitoring beaches in Volusia, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach Counties. EAI also conducted nesting sea turtle and migratory shorebird surveys on Cat Island and Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi supporting barrier island restoration projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In 2019, EAI’s dedicated team documented a total of 13,841 loggerhead, 5,532 green turtle, and 282 leatherback nests across all its survey areas, for a grand total of 19,655 documented nests. The first nest of the season was a leatherback nest on March 1 on Hutchinson Island, and our last documented nest was a green turtle nest on October 16, again on Hutchinson Island.
EAI experienced some nesting records along its beaches in 2019. Volusia County saw its highest number of loggerhead nests on record at 399 nests and green nests at 31! Along the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge and St. Lucie Inlet State Park beaches of Jupiter Island, green turtles laid a total of 2,846 nests. The previous record was in 2017 at 2,489 nests along the same 6 miles.
Unfortunately, local beaches were not spared the negative effects of Hurricane Dorian. 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 also affected. Despite the loss of nests, sea turtle populations are resilient to impacts from periodic storm events. During their nesting years, which occur every two to three years, turtles lay several clutches and continue to nest after storms have passed. For example, a green turtle nested in Indian River County after Hurricane Dorian passed. Its nest hatched late in the season on December 4th but still produced 78 hatchlings!
The 2019 season was EAI’s first year hosting nighttime Turtle Walks. Guided by our knowledgeable staff, 131 participants attended our six turtle walks and were able to observe female loggerhead turtles nesting on Hutchinson Island. Public nest excavations in Martin and Palm Beach counties were also organized by EAI. For each of these excavations, the EAI team monitors a selected nest and then digs up the contents, after it has hatched, to evaluate hatching and emerging success (how many eggs successfully hatched and how many hatchlings made it out of the nest). Over 400 beachgoers watched our staff perform these excavations and some lucky attendees were able to see live “straggler” hatchlings that did not make it out of the nest on their own.
During the nesting season, you can help nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings by reducing artificial light, removing beach furniture and other items from the beach at night, and filling in holes on the beach. Please do not handle sea turtles, their hatchlings, or their eggs. Throughout the year, you can still help protect sea turtles by reducing the amount of plastic you use and picking up trash you find when visiting our local beaches and waterways. EAI responds to stranded sea turtles throughout the year. Unfortunately, boat and fishing-related injuries are common causes of sea turtle deaths. Carefully disposing of fishing line and obeying no-wake zones can reduce the number of negative impacts humans can have on turtles.