Thirty years ago scientists were worried that the green turtle might become extinct. So the survey, recently released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Institute that showed it had been a record breaking year for green turtle nests was cause for celebration.
Sea turtles dig about 80 percent of their nests in the United States. Florida is the place where more sea turtles nest than anywhere else in the United States. There are five different types of turtles who nest on Florida shores, all of which are threatened or endangered. They are the green, leatherback, hawksbill, Kemp’s Ridley and the loggerhead.
Information released by FWC shows the number of green turtle nests in Florida in 2015 was higher than the previous highest year (2013) which was itself more than double the old counts. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have documented approximately 28,000 green turtle nests on 26 index beaches in the state in 2015.
FWC-trained and authorized surveyors across the state monitor nests on a set of index beaches that span nearly 200 miles and are the focus of the Index Nesting Beach Survey program. These surveys began in 1989. Index surveyors follow strict counting protocols during a specific 109-day window, making it possible for FWC researchers to use the data from these beaches to identify trends.
According to FWC the trend for green turtles shows an exponential increase in nesting over the past 27 years. In 1989, biologists documented 464 green turtle nests on index beaches. In 2011, the index count was 10,701; in 2013, it was 25,553 and this year the number of green turtle nests on index beaches reached a new record of 27,975. The index count represents about 68 percent of green turtle nesting statewide. Leatherback sea turtle nest counts have also risen exponentially since 1989. The 2015 count of 489 nests on index beaches was lower than 2014, which had set the new record on index beaches for the species. Loggerhead sea turtles, the most prevalent sea turtle species on Florida’s shores, accounted for 52,647 nests on index beaches this year, down from 2012’s near-record count of 58,172 nests but above the last two years.
Researchers say this trend in greater number of turtle nests comes as a result of over 30 years of conservation efforts. Laws prohibiting the harvesting of sea turtles, coastal lighting ordinances, a ban on fishing nets that cause turtles to drown, coastal land acquisitions programs that have preserved stretches of nesting habitat have helped. Maybe the most important measure of all happened in 1978, when the green turtle was added to the federal list of endangered species.