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Sea turtle nests up significantly this year

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of June 28, 2012)

The number of sea turtle nests on Vero barrier island beaches is almost double what it was at this time last year.

Officials who monitor sea turtle nests on the next barrier island to the north, where the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge stretches across 20.5 miles between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso Beach, cannot pinpoint any scientific reason for what has also been an explosion there in the number of nests.

They say the area could be returning to levels last seen before the millennium, when abundant sea turtle nests dotted area beaches.

For a variety of reasons between 1998 and the mid to late 2000s, the number of sea turtle nests in the area dropped about 40 percent. While multiple factors likely contributed to this steep decline, many believe that trawlers fishing with nets played a role.  Others believe there were simply too many turtles to survive.

Regardless, the number of turtle nests appear to be rebounding.

The 2010 turtle season was considered a banner year when more 5,935 nests were laid in the southern portion of Indian River County, said Rick Herren, who monitors the 8.7 miles of city and south county beaches. An official who monitors the north portion of island beaches is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

The first turtle nest of the year in Indian River County was spotted on March 1, the first day of the turtle nesting season. After a turtle lays approximately 80 to 120 eggs, the incubation period is 60 days.   Hatchlings already have emerged from a few nests along the island, said Herren.

As of June 22, there have been 1,023 loggerhead nests discovered on the swath of beach that Herren monitors. A year ago, there were 719.

“It’s just amazing,” said Sebastian Inlet Park Ranger Rick Grimaldi.  He said that two weeks ago, 530 loggerhead nests had been counted in a three mile stretch he monitors by the inlet. A year ago, Grimaldi said the number was about 200.