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Green sea turtles seen nesting on our beaches in record numbers


Last year saw a plunge in green sea turtle nests in Indian River County, with just 235 counted, the lowest number in more than a decade, but county officials expect a record resurgence for the endangered species this year.

The turtles have a cyclical nesting pattern – lots of nests one year, few the next – and just as last year was exceptionally low, this year's nesting season is anticipated to be the best since the county starting keeping records 15 years ago, surpassing the record set in 2017, when more than 2,600 nests were counted.

As of June 28, the number of green sea turtle nests had already doubled, with 487 counted so far. Green sea turtles grow up to 4 feet long and weigh up to 350 pounds, living as long as 60 years.

County officials are also expecting a good year for loggerhead turtles, the most prevalent species to frequent local beaches. Last year, 5,734 loggerhead nests were recorded and 3,580 have already been counted this year. In 2016, loggerheads experienced a record year with 7,197 nests, the most since numbers have been kept.

Twenty-two nests of leatherbacks – the largest sea turtle in the world and one of the least common visitor to the area – have been counted so far. Forty-six nests of the species were discovered last year, about half the record number of 87 nests counted in 2010.

With potentially record numbers of nests scattered along the island’s 22.4 miles of shoreline, officials are warning beachgoers to be careful not to disturb the nests or interfere with thousands of threatened loggerhead, leatherback and green turtles lumbering ashore to lay their eggs.

“I really want to remind people that we should enjoy wild animals from a safe distance,” said Quintin Bergman, the county’s environmental specialist. “We don’t want to interrupt the animal and what’s it’s doing in its natural habitat.”

Bergman is also cautioning oceanfront residents and restaurants to be mindful of local ordinances that restrict lighting at night during nesting season to ensure baby sea turtles are guided to the ocean by moonlight instead of crawling inland toward manmade light.

“Artificial lights on a nesting beach will have a negative impact,” Bergman said. “Adults are less likely to lay nests if the beach is well lit and hatchlings could become disoriented on their way to the sea.”

Lights illuminating buildings along the beach must be shielded or turned off by 9 p.m. during nesting season, according to the county’s ordinance. Flood lights are prohibited and light fixtures on the landward side of structures that can be seen from the beach must be fitted with shields and directed downward so no light directly or indirectly illuminates the beach. Residents and business owners should also close window shades and curtains to keep the beach as dark as possible, county officials have cautioned.

Sea turtle nesting season runs from March 1 through Oct. 31. Loggerhead and leatherback nests were first sighted on county beaches in late April, while the first green turtle nest was spotted in mid-May.