Sea Turtles Nesting Season- Jupiter, Tequesta & Stuart

The following article is from the local newspaper at

Leatherbacks are an endangered species, but this year the turtles might lay a record number of nests on Treasure Coast beaches and on beaches around Florida.
“By all appearances,” said Bob Ernest, president of Jensen Beach-based Ecological Associates, “2009 is going to shatter the state’s record for leatherback nests.”
Sea turtle nesting season in Florida officially runs from March 1 through Oct. 31. Leatherbacks arrive first, and their nesting season is now winding down; loggerheads, a threatened species that’s the most common sea turtle on the Treasure Coast, are about halfway through their nesting season; and green turtles, also an endangered species, began nesting this month.
Ecological Associates monitors turtle nests on Hutchinson Island from Normandy Beach in St. Lucie County south to the St. Lucie Inlet and from the Fort Pierce Inlet south to the Ocean Village condominiums in the South Beach area of Fort Pierce. Through Wednesday, the firm has tallied 304 leatherback nests; in the same time frame on the same beaches, 230 nests were counted in 2007, the previous record-setting year.
Other turtle watchers on the Treasure Coast are reporting similar, if not quite as spectacular, results.
“So far this year, leatherback nesting has been really good,” said Rick Herren, who oversees Indian River County’s sea turtle habitat conservation plan and monitors about 75 percent of the county’s turtle nesting beaches.
Herren said the sections of beach he monitors had 33 leatherback nests as of June 11; the record is 46 nests for the same time period in 2007.
Meghan Koperski of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s office in Tequesta, which oversees turtle watch activities throughout the Treasure Coast, calls the turtle-nesting season so far “kind of a mixed bag.”
“Some areas are reporting fewer leatherbacks than in years before,” Koperski said, “and some are reporting record numbers of leatherbacks.”
That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that the number of nests of loggerhead turtles appears to be on the decline.
“We’re about 200 nests below where we were at this time last year,” Herren said of loggerheads in Indian River County, “and about 50 nests below where we were in 2007, our worst year on record.”
Ernest said the number of loggerhead nests his crews have found “appears to be declining. But we’re not quite halfway through the loggerhead season, so it’s hard to make an accurate assessment.”
With the green turtle nesting season just under way, the experts say it’s too early to predict numbers for the year.
Experts also are hesitant to hypothesize about why leatherback numbers are up and loggerheads are down.
Because sea turtles take decades to reach breeding age, Herren said, “there could be something that happened years ago, either in the turtles’ foraging grounds or on their way to our beaches, that’s caused there to be fewer nesting (loggerheads).”
The uptick in leatherbacks, a species that ranges farther out to sea, could be the result of recently enacted turtle-friendly fishing practices, including nets that have escape hatches.
“The (nesting) season isn’t over until it’s over,” Koperski added. “As soon as anyone starts making predictions, (the turtles) prove them wrong.”

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