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Turtles track busy season on Longboat

Turtles track busy season on Longboat
As far as Longboat Key records go, turtles broke the one they set for themselves in 2016.
by: Katie Johns Community Editor

Turtles tracked a busy season on Longboat Key this year.

So busy, in fact, there is both record-breaking good news and record-breaking bad news.

Good news first, right?

There were 1,260 loggerhead nests and 17 green turtle nests counted on Longboat Key in 2017.

That breaks last year’s record-breaking count of 1,184.

In 2017, there were 4,503 nests on Mote Marine Laboratory-monitored beaches, which run for 35 miles from Longboat Key to Venice. This is 85 nests short from last year’s record. Although this year didn’t break that record overall, Lido and Siesta keys also broke individual records, said Kristen Mazzarella, a senior biologist at Mote.

“This season went really well,” Mazzarella said. “We almost, but not quite, reached the record that we set last year. And that was such a huge record, to be that close to it again is great.”

Most nests withstood both Tropical Storm Emily  and Hurricane Irma. By the time the storms hit in August  and September, most nests had been laid and not many were washed out, Mazzarella said.

Mazzarella credits conservation for the numbers.

Newly matured female turtles are nesting now. They hatched 35 years ago when conservation efforts ramped up with poaching regulations and laws requiring turtle exclusion devices, called TEDs, that allow turtles to escape fishing nets.

The bad news?

This year also brought a record-number of disorientations to Longboat Key beaches, Longboat Key Turtle Watch Vice President Cyndi Seamon said.

“It wasn’t just that we thought we were doing a lot of disorientation forms, we actually were doing a lot of disorientations forms,” she said. “… There was a reason for it.”

There were 207 disorientations on Longboat Key this year. Sixteen of those were adult disorientations, and the rest were hatchling disorientations. There were 165 in 2016 and 105 in 2015.

On three occasions this summer, turtles tangled with chairs left on the beach. Two turtles managed to release themselves, but one turtle and chair were never found.

“Turtles will come up on the beach, and they will nest where they want to whether there is furniture or not,” Mazzarella said. “It’s not going to impede them from trying, so if there is furniture there, it could get broken or it could get taken away or it could entangle them.”

To combat disorientations, Longboat Key implemented a stricter nesting ordinance at the beginning of the season.

“In most cases, education is all you need, but in some cases it does require enforcement, which is why they had to pass that ordinance,” Mazzarella said.

This past year, the Longboat Key Turtle Watch did multiple community outreach events to educate residents on how to comply with the ordinances and about nesting season in general.

And while some properties jumped on board and changed the lights they had on site, and some are planning to do it this off-season to be ready for next turtle season, the disorientation number was still high.

“I think they still haven’t figured out what they need to do and how they’re going to get it done, so it’s a work in progress,” Seamon said.