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Good news: Loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles nesting here earlier than usual

Photo: One of two marked turtle nests at Tracking Station Beachfront Park on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

There was good news about sea turtles a month ago when county officials announced that leatherbacks – the largest of the three species seen on Indian River County beaches – had begun nesting here earlier than in previous years.

And now there is more good news: Two loggerhead nests were laid April 23 along a stretch of shoreline where the beaches and dunes were built up with inland sand last winter – a “good sign that the turtles are receiving the newly-placed sand well,” according to a news release from the county’s Coastal Engineering Division.

County officials say one nest was laid near Riomar, the other at Tracking Station Park – both located within the so-called Sector 5 Project Area between Vista Del Mar Condos and Riomar, where more than 160,000 cubic yards of sand were spread to mitigate storm-caused erosion.

The sand was trucked in from Stewart Materials’ upland site in Fort Pierce.

Sea turtle watchers in the community had been concerned that the threatened and endangered loggerheads, which spend most of their lives in the open ocean – coming ashore to nest on the beaches where they were born – might refuse to lay their eggs in unfamiliar sand. But so far there’s no evidence that’s going on. The county says it “holds strict geological standards for the sand used during beach nourishment projects.”

Officials say they will continually monitor sea turtle activity through the end of nesting season in late October/early November to see if there is any disruption due to the renourishment project.

So far, 236 loggerhead nests have been counted on Indian River County beaches since the season’s first was discovered April 8 near Round Island Beach Park.

Both the loggerheads and the huge, endangered leatherback sea turtles are nesting here earlier than in previous years.  The first leatherback nest was found March 10 in Indian River Shores.

As of May 11, 33 had been identified on our county beaches. The third species that nests here – the green sea turtle – had not dug any nests through the end of April. But the greens typically nest here later in the season than the other two species.

“As always, we are hopeful for a generous nesting season, but the turtles will decide that,” the Coastal Engineering Division says.