Sea Turtles on Marco Island
Did you know that on average there are 80 Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) nests per year on the 4 miles of Marco Island’s beach?
Whether you live here or are just visiting, you can easily participate in protecting these threatened creatures and their important nesting environment.
Each May and continuing through early August, female loggerhead sea turtles crawl out of the Gulf of Mexico and nest on Marco Island’s beach. The baby turtles, or hatchlings, will emerge 60 days after the nests are laid. Hatchlings generally are emerging from early July through the end of October each year.
It takes a female turtle 1 to 3 hours to lay an average of 100 eggs in the sand.
*A female turtle can nest several times per season (up to 7), but may only nest every 2-3 years.
*The female turtle uses her rear flippers to dig the nest cavity before depositing her eggs.
*Male turtles spend their life in the open ocean never crawling up on the beach.
*The temperature of the sand determines the sex of the hatchlings.
*It is estimated that only 1 in 1000 sea turtle hatchlings will survive to reproductive maturity.
*Sea turtles cannot retract their heads into their shells.
*A group of sea turtles is called a flotilla.
How Long Do Sea Turtles Live?
No one knows for sure. According the US Fish and Wildlife Service, scientists are uncertain how long they live because there is no known way to determine their age.
Sea turtles spend almost their entire lives in the sea. Sea turtles are excellent swimmers, gliding gracefully through the water with flipper-like forelimbs and a streamlined shell. Sea turtles frequently come to the surface to breathe when active, but they can remain underwater for several hours when resting. Sea turtles are always on the move and travel hundreds of miles across ocean waters.
Sea Turtle Species
The six sea turtle species in the United States are; Loggerhead, Green turtle, Leatherback turtle, Hawksbill turtle, and the Olive Ridley sea turtle.
Marco Island beach is vital to the sea turtle’s continued survival in Southwest Florida.
Marco Island and the Ten Thousand Island region of the Florida Everglades is home to sea turtles. These large reptiles nest in the sandy beaches along the south Florida Gulf Coast. Among the largest of living reptiles, sea turtles have scales and a bony shell, are cold-blooded, breathe air, and lay their eggs on land. Although it is illegal to hunt sea turtles in most countries, they continue to be harvested for food and are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. Sea turtles play a key role in the Gulf Coast’s fragile ecosystem. Sea turtles and manatee are the only creatures in the world to eat the sea grass which grows on the ocean floor. Sea turtles are vulnerable to oil pollution because of their tendency to float upon the ocean surface. In 2012, there were nearly 4000 sea turtle hatchlings on Marco Island – an increase of more than 1,000 from the previous season. Most of the 2012 sea turtle nests were on Sand Dollar, near Tiger Tail Beach. The remainder were located on the main beach and Hideaway Beach.
Florida’s most common variety of sea turtle is the loggerhead, which averages 200 to 250 pounds. Larger leatherbacks and green turtles nest here in smaller numbers.
Leatherback Sea Turtles May Come Off Endangered List
Leatherbacks live all over the world’s oceans and have been listed as endangered by the U.S. since 1970. Deciding whether the listing should be changed will require determining the stability of the population, said Jennifer Schultz, a fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries.
The fishing group that requested the change wants the Northwestern Atlantic’s leatherback population to be considered a distinct segment of the population. That segment would include all of the leatherbacks that nest on beaches in the eastern U.S. states. But NOAA Fisheries is going to look at the status of the turtles worldwide, said Angela Somma, chief of endangered species division with NOAA Fisheries.
Blue Water Fishermen’s Association requested the change of listing in part to spur new research into the status of the leatherback population, said Ernie Panacek, a past president of the organization. Data about species such as sea turtles and marine mammals play a role in crafting fishing regulations, and fishermen fear the government is using outdated data about leatherbacks, he said.
The leatherback sea turtle has been the subject of intense interest from conservation groups over the years. It’s listing as endangered by the U.S. predates the modern Endangered Species Act that was enacted in 1973. The Costa Rica-based Leatherback Trust, an international nonprofit group, describes them as “ancient creatures celebrated in creation myths belonging to diverse cultures around the world.”
International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the leatherback sea turtle as “vulnerable,” which is one notch above “endangered” on the IUCN’s scale. It’s one of the largest reptiles on Earth, feeding mostly on jellyfish, which has left them at risk to plastic in the ocean, which can kill them if they ingest it. They are also notable for being the deepest diving and most migratory of all sea turtles, and for their lack of a bony shell.
Patrick Whittle, Associated Press