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Date of Issue: April 30, 2008

Nesting season begins May 1

A volunteer with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch notes the number of eggs - hatched and unhatched - found in a loggerhead sea turtle nest in 2007 in Bradenton Beach. The data is used at the local, state and federal levels for further information. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

With the 2008 nesting season about to begin, new statistics show 2007 saw the largest decline in the number of loggerhead sea turtles nesting on Florida’s beaches in 17 years.

Researchers found 45,084 loggerhead turtle nests last year, down more than 4,600 nests from 2006, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

About 90 percent of the loggerhead nests in the United States are made in Florida, where the number of nests has decreased by nearly half since 1998. That year, the state, based on reports from organizations such as the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, reported 85,988 loggerhead nests.

As the number of recorded loggerhead nests declined, statistics show the number of loggerhead deaths doubled, according to the new report from FWC.

“The numbers are not so hot,” said Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, adding that the greatest threats to nesting turtles are “beach development and new lights on existing buildings that are not up to code. Remember, the girls are returning to their home, where they were born, to nest. If there is a building or a seawall there, they can’t come home.”

During nesting season, the endangered female sea turtles emerge from the water to lay their eggs in the sand where they were born, likely decades earlier.

On Anna Maria Island, where the turtle activity is monitored by a group of AMITW walkers, the nesting begins as early as May 1.

“Nest monitoring has improved 100 percent from what it was 10 years ago,” Fox said. “New tools, computers, GPS.… Our data sheets have 100 different pieces of information that we collect. Ten years ago, it had five pieces of info.”

By mid-summer, the season’s activity begins to include the arrival of hatchlings on the beach, tiny turtles smaller than the palm of a hand that race across the sand to their first dip in water.

While statewide the nesting numbers went down in 2007, on Anna Maria Island the number of nests increased, from 118 in 2006 to 133 in 2007.

But so did the number of false crawls - occasions in which a turtle came ashore and for whatever reason, returned to the water without digging a nest. AMITW documented 80 false crawls in 2006 and 183 in 2007.