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10/31/2013 at 12:37pm

Turtle Season Wraps UpTurtle Season Wraps Up

As tourist season approaches, islanders say goodbye to a different kind of annual visitor as Turtle Season officially ended on October 31st. We spoke with Turtle Time Director Eve Haverfield this week and she told us that - while there are still some issues with folks harassing this endangered species - 2013 was, overall, a good year to be a turtle.

"We ended up with 44 nests (an additional nest reported in last week's paper turned out to be false) and that's a pretty good number,” Eve said. "Since the same groups of turtles tend to nest every other year, we compared that number to 2011, when we only had 28. It does appear that Fort Myers Beach has attracted some new recruits, and we saw nests in new places on the island.”

The number of hatchlings was up, too. While last year saw a record 65 nests, they only produced 974 baby turtles. This year's crop came in at 2,154 - which seems like a lot until one considers that only one to four out of a thousand hatchlings survive to adulthood.

"That's why they lay so many eggs and often one turtle will make as many as nine nests in one summer,” Haverfield explained. "They are part of the food chain for many species, that's why it's important to protect them while they're on land because that's the only thing we can control.”

To that end, Eve told us that - despite Town Environmental Science Coordinator Keith Laakkonen's herculean efforts to educate people - there were three instances this summer where hatchlings became disoriented due to bright lights on the beach.

"We keep trying to get folks to use Amber LED lights instead because the turtles can't see them, plus they last forever and don't cause night blindness in people, so they are actually safer in keeping burglars away,” Eve said. "With bright lights, the only thing illuminated is the house - not whoever is creeping out there in the darkness.”

There were also some instances - one of them quite significant - of sea turtle harassment and nest disturbance, which Eve told us are being investigated by the Sheriff's Office.

"We also had some pleasant surprises this year,” she said. "We documented a Green turtle nest on Bonita Springs - which is the first one I've seen in 34 years there because that species prefers 'high energy' wave areas to nest. Then we had a turtle actually crawl through the lagoon in the Critical Wildlife Area to look for an area to nest which is very unusual because once they hit any kind of dip in the sand or obstruction, they usually turn around and head back to the Gulf.”

Turtles, explained Eve, generally look for the beach on which they were hatched to nest but will turn back for a myriad of reasons resulting in 'false crawls'.

"They crawl with their snout in the sand and use magnetic clues or their sense of smell to determine where they want to go,” she said. "But anything from lights to loose dogs or furniture left out will cause them to turn around.”

All in all, Eve told us that she is pleased with this year's turtle season and optimistic for the future.

"The majority of people out there are doing a wonderful job and we're really appreciative of that,” she said. "And each year more and more people volunteer to help me at Turtle Time, which is something I find really heartwarming.”

Keri Hendry Weeg