December 19, 2013

Green Sea Turtle Release on December 17, 2013

Tuesday’s release of a rehabilitated green sea turtle presents a well-timed opportunity for me to make my first blog post and introduce myself to the turtlers of Sanibel and Captiva! My name is Kelly Sloan and I recently replaced Amanda Bryant as the sea turtle program coordinator for Sanibel-Capitva Conservation Foundation. Before coming to Sanibel I worked as a sea turtle biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for almost seven years. Releasing a rehabilitated sea turtle was a great welcome to the island!

On November 18, 2013 this 18 kilogram, juvenile green sea turtle was found floating by Red Anders in Pine Island Sound near North Captiva. The turtle was in good physical shape other than a few very small superficial abrasions to the plastron, but because the animal was lethargic and unable to dive, Red and Amanda transported the turtle to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) on Sanibel. 

Green sea turtle being transported to CROW. Photo by: SCCF

CROW staff members took bloodwork and learned that she was suffering from brevetoxicosis. Brevetoxins are neurotoxins (nerve toxins) produced by the red tide dinoflagellate Karenia brevis and they are known to be toxic to many marine organisms including fish, marine mammals, and sea turtles.  This turtle needed to stay until the toxin was completely out of her system, but she was quickly deemed healthy enough to be transferred from critical care to an outdoor tank. She was even eating and diving like a normal turtle within just a few days of arrival!

Green sea turtle admitted at CROW. Photo by SCCF

Thanks to the dedicated staff at CROW, this turtle was ready for release thirty days after she was admitted. As soon as her bloodwork was normal they tagged her with PIT tags and flipper tags to prepare for her release into the wild. The release team included Red and Kristie Anders, Kat McDonough and Kate Bender (CROW rehabilitators), and myself. 

Leaving the dock to release the rehabilitated sea turtle. Photo by Kristie Anders.

It was a perfect afternoon on the water. No one minded being bounced around a bit on the boat ride out to the release site, which was the same spot that Red originally found her floating a month earlier. We were even greeted by a pod of dolphins right before we sent her on her way.  Red and I had the honor of releasing her, and she didn’t waste any time swimming off! We did catch a glimpse of her taking a breath of air before she swam out of sight.

Red and Kelly releasing the turtle. Photo by Kristie Anders.

This was a very memorable experience with my first Florida sea turtle!  I’m excited to take over as your fearless leader and look forward to the 2014 turtle season. Please don’t hesitate to call me at (239) 472-3984 with any questions regarding the sea turtle program. Happy holidays!

November 21, 2013

2013 Nesting Season Wrap Up

We said the same about last season, but…what a season! This summer was the third highest nesting year on record for Sanibel and Captiva. Sanibel finished the 2013 nesting season with 328 loggerhead nests, 21 green turtle nests, and 511 false crawls (509 loggerhead and 2 green). Captiva had 132 loggerhead nests, 2 green turtle nests, and 80 false crawls (78 loggerhead and 2 green).

Loggerhead turtle nest on Sanibel. Photo by: A. Bryant

 Unlike last year, which suffered from the impacts of two tropical storms, hatch success this year was great! Sanibel and Captiva had 258 and 119 hatches respectively. This summer our beaches produced 26,641 live hatchlings!

Loggerhead turtle hatchlings crawling to the Gulf at dawn. Photo by: A. Bryant

Overall, green turtle nesting was up statewide this year. While the final numbers are not in, yet, the 2013 nesting season appears to be the best on record for this species. Sanibel and Captiva were no exception. Our previous record for green turtle nesting was eight nests (7 on Sanibel and 1 on Captiva). During the 2013 nesting season we documented 23 nests (21 on Sanibel and 2 on Captiva) on the Islands!
Female green turtle crawling to the Gulf at dawn after nesting. Photo by: L. Linsmayer

October 11, 2013

Sea Turtle Season Winding Down

While there are still nests hatching on the Islands, sea turtle season is nearly complete for 2013. All of Captiva's nests have hatched and we are waiting on the remaining seven nests on Sanibel. To date, there have been 479 nests laid on the Islands and 369 of those have hatched. The final totals will be available in a couple weeks after the final nests have hatched.

One of the many reasons turtle patrol is worthwhile- the sunrises!

SCCF turtle volunteer excavating a green turtle nest.

Green turtle hatchlings found during a nest excavation.

Green turtle hatchling track headed to the Gulf.

September 13, 2013

Hatch Season Update

It may finally be safe to say nesting is finished on Sanibel and Captiva. Although, the last time that thought crossed our minds another green turtle kindly came ashore and proved us wrong! It is been over two weeks since the last nest was laid and more than a month since the last loggerhead came ashore. 

Hatching is continuing in earnest, but should begin slowing in the next few weeks. To date, there have been 348 nests laid on Sanibel (327 loggerhead and 21 green turtle nests) and 130 nests laid on Captiva (128 loggerhead and 2 green turtle nests. This is the THIRD highest nesting year for the Islands and the BEST nesting year for green turtles! So far, 311 nests have hatched between Sanibel and Captiva and we're patiently monitoring the 75 nests that remain on our beaches.

This success would not be possible without the visitors and residents of the Islands practicing sea turtle friendly behaviors. For that, we’d like to say THANK YOU! Keep in mind that turtle season isn’t over, though, and keeping beachfront lighting to a minimum is essential so we can guarantee a safe nest to Gulf trip for the remaining hatchlings.

Loggerhead nest with predator exclusion screen. Look at all the hatchling tracks leaving the nest and headed straight for the Gulf!

Green turtle hatchling awaiting its nighttime release.

Loggerhead hatchling crawling to the Gulf at sunrise.

Tracks of the last green turtle nest laid on Sanibel.

July 24, 2013

The Very Lost Loggerhead

Usually when you come upon the tracks of a sea turtle you can clearly see a track leaving and entering the water. This was not the case on Wednesday July 24. We saw only one set of tracks- those leaving the water and heading to the dune. As we followed the tracks up the beach and past the area where she nested it became obvious that something was wrong. The turtle’s tracks continued beyond her nest, up a beach path and behind the dune. After a little searching, we found the exhausted loggerhead under a bush. In all, she crawled 182 feet beyond where she nested. 

The lost and exhausted loggerhead under a bush.

Adult loggerheads are large, the females often weigh 150-200 pounds, so it was apparent we needed help to move her back to the beach. We called on the help of another turtle patrol volunteer who also is a Captiva volunteer fireman. He enlisted the assistance of two of Captiva’s firemen. We carried her back to the beach to preserve what energy she had left. When placed at the high tide line the turtle quickly crawled back into the water and swam away. 

The lost loggerhead finally headed in the right direction.
While the exact reason for this turtle becoming disoriented is unclear, there are two likely possibilities. One is that one or more of the beachfront houses left lights on that illuminated the beach enough to confuse the turtle. Sea turtles use the brightest horizon to navigate to the water. On a dark beach with no artificial lighting that is always the water. Lighting from beachfront houses can confuse sea turtles causing them to crawl away from the water and toward the light. The second explanation is that after nesting the turtle was disturbed by people on the beach. In attempt to crawl away from them, she moved up the beach path and away from the water.

It is important to remember there are lighting ordinances on both Sanibel and Captiva that restrict beachfront light for the protection of sea turtles. Sea turtles are also protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to disturb sea turtles or alter their behavior in any way. 

Sea turtle season continues until October 31. Keep our beaches sea turtle friendly by following these guidelines:
-Shield or turn off all beachfront lights
-Avoid using flashlights on the beach
-Never take use your camera flash on the beach at night
-Fill in all holes. Sea turtles large and small can become trapped in holes.
-Remove all garbage from the beach. Garbage, especially from food & drinks, can attract predators like fire ants and raccoons.

July 19, 2013

Hatch Season Begins on the Islands

There's always a point in the summer where try as we might we can't manage to get an update written and posted. Generally, this coincides with hatch season beginning! All of our staff and volunteers are so busy keeping up with nests being laid and nests hatching it never feels like there's a moment to sit down at the computer.

Hatching has gotten off to a slow but steady start. Eight of Sanibel's nests have hatched and nine nests on Captiva have hatched. Nesting is still going strong. Sanibel has 241 loggerhead nests and 9 green turtle nests. On Captiva there are 113 loggerhead nests and 2 green turtle nests. This is the most green turtle nests the program has ever documented on the Islands! Green turtles tend to nest later into August than loggerheads, so hopefully we can expect a few more nests before the season is done.

Loggerhead hatchling tracks from the nest to the Gulf.
Loggerhead hatchlings crawling to the Gulf at sunrise.
Green turtle tracks.
Green turtle nest on Sanibel.

June 14, 2013

Nesting Update

We’ve been busy, busy, busy since the last post. We’re now up to 118 nests on Sanibel and 48 nests on Captiva. The nests fared really well through the high tides of Tropical Storm Andrea. 

High surf in front of Island Inn during TS Andrea.
Three nests washed away on Captiva and 15 were washed over by the tide. On Sanibel, we lost 14 nests and 46 nests were washed over. One of the lessons that came out of Tropical Storm Debbie last summer was to not count the nests washed over as a lost cause. Many nests, some that sat underwater for more than a day, still had eggs hatch. This leaves us really hopeful for the nests washed over briefly by Andrea. Luckily, the first green turtle to nest on the islands waited for the storm to pass! 

Sunrise after TS Andrea passed.
Captiva got the first green nest of the season last weekend. Hopefully, there will be many more that follow on both islands.
Green turtle nest on Captiva.