Ecological Associates, Inc. (“EAI”) continues to survey approximately 50 miles of high-density sea turtle nesting beaches along Florida’s east coast. Prior to the start of Florida’s sea turtle nesting season (March 1st – October 31st), nine leatherback nests were documented in February by our field staff while conducting preseason surveys. On March 10, 2022, EAI documented the first loggerhead nest in the state of Florida for the 2022 nesting season!
During 2021, our team documented a total of 13,143 loggerhead, 3,430 green turtle, and 356 leatherback nests across all permitted survey areas. The first nest was a leatherback nest on February 19th on Hutchinson Island in Martin County. Our last documented nest was a green turtle nest on October 20th in Indian River County. 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 and will continue performing piping plover and rufa red knot surveys as well as breeding shorebird surveys in Broward County during 2022. This season, EAI will also be conducting sea turtle surveys in South Ponte Vedra, St. Johns County. We look forward to continuing to educate our community by providing the following public outreach programs in 2022: Nighttime Sea Turtle Walks, Public Excavation Programs, and Guided Nature Hatchling Walk Programs.
EAI hosted in-person outreach events for the public at a limited capacity in 2021. We sponsored five Turtle Walks last season, after the 2020 events were canceled. Turtle Walks allow guests to observe a nesting female loggerhead while laying eggs at night under the supervision of a trained biologist. Since 2018, EAI has hosted its Public Excavation Program in partnership with Florida Oceanographic Society. EAI held ten programs in Martin and St. Lucie Counties and five programs with the City of Delray Beach. EAI monitors a selected nest and 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.
A new program was initiated in conjunction with the St. Lucie County Environmental Resources Department this past year. Three Hatchling Walk Programs were provided to members of the community to observe sea turtle crawls and a hatchling release before sunrise. EAI participated in Delray Beach’s Sharkfest with the Sandoway Discovery Center and plans to host a booth at the Oxbow Eco-Center for the 18th Annual St. Lucie Earth Day Festival in April. Please be sure to follow Ecological Associates, Inc. on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to stay informed on our outreach programs! Dates for the 2022 Nighttime Sea Turtle Walks and Public Excavation Programs will be released May 1, 2022.
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 presents annual nesting numbers by species along approximately 10 miles of beaches on Hutchinson Island from the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County to the Normandy public beach access in St. Lucie County.