As many of you know, Marco Island is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Its ecological diversity is part of its charm. It’s also part of what makes Marco Island a worldwide vacation destination. Visitors from across the country and abroad come to see the dolphins, the birds, the fish, and of course the sea turtles.
Each year, between the months of May and October, female loggerhead sea turtles make their way to the beaches of Southwest Florida to nest. Usually done during the darkness of night, the sea turtles will come ashore and deposit anywhere from 50 to 200 eggs. After 60 days, the eggs begin to hatch—this too is usually done during the night. The hatchlings make their way to the Gulf of Mexico guided by the reflection of the moon on the waters surface.
Once the hatchlings reach the water, they begin their journey to the Atlantic Ocean. The first few years of their lives are spent drifting among mats of sargassum, a brownish, tangled type of seaweed. Once females reach the age of sexual maturity, about 12 to 30-years-old, they will return to the beach where they were born to nest. Unfortunately, only about 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive to this point. This is mainly due to natural predation (birds, crabs, ants, raccoons, and fish) and human intervention and pollution.
Turtle nests can be found pretty much anywhere along Marco Island’s beachfront. According to the City of Marco Island website there are about “80 loggerhead sea turtle nests per year on the 4 miles of Marco Island’s beach.” The nests are hard to miss as they’re marked with bright yellow caution tape wrapped around four stakes, warning visitors to stay away.
So what can we do to help the sea turtles whose beaches we share?
Below are some Turtle Tips to keep in mind when visiting any of Marco Island’s beaches!
- Give the nests space. Be as courteous as possible and set you your beach equipment well away from a marked turtle nest.
- Make sure all garbage is picked up and thrown away in an appropriate waste container. This includes fishing lines and other fishing equipment.
- Fill any holes so that hatchlings don’t get trapped on their way to the ocean.
- Close blinds at nighttime if you’re residing in a beachfront condo. Hatchlings can confuse the artificial lights for the moon and this may lead them in the wrong direction.
- Do not use flashlights, flash photography, lanterns or any other sources of light on the beach at night.
- All unnecessary lights on the beachfront should be turned off by 9pm.
Marco Islander Mary Nelson, also known as the “sea turtle lady,” is responsible for monitoring the nests. She can be found driving her ATV on the beach in the early hours of the morning as well as the late hours of the night, taking notes and documenting her findings. So if you see or hear here her, don’t be alarmed! She’s just doing her part to make sure the nests are intact and everything is going according to plan.
If for any reason you see a turtle in distress, a dead turtle, a hatchling wandering in the wrong direction, or a threat to a sea turtle nesting ground call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement at: 1-888-404-FWCC or *FWC from your cell phone.
Mary Nelson can be reached at 239-289-9736. For more information about sea turtles visit: www.cityofmarcoisland.com