South Hutchinson Island
The location of our St. Lucie Site provides an opportunity to understand the nesting biology of sea turtles due to its proximity to some of the most important beaches for sea turtle nesting in the western hemisphere. This area is considered a critical habitat for these turtles, especially considering that loggerhead and green turtles are currently listed as threatened, and leatherback turtles as endangered. These beaches are part of an index nesting program (INBS) and a statewide nesting program (SNBS) for Florida, and each morning, from March through October, IRG biologists conduct daily nesting surveys on 15km of South Hutchinson Island. During these surveys, the biologists count the number of loggerhead, green, and leatherback nests deposited on the beach during the previous night. Also recorded is the number of “false crawls”, which refers to a sea turtle’s emergence from the ocean that does not result in a nest being laid. A subset of these nests is marked and later inventoried to record hatching and emergence success. All data collected throughout the season are then provided to the state. The combined efforts of the SNBS and INBS programs not only allow for the management and evaluation of coastal development efforts but also promote the recovery of marine turtles.
This year (2023), we broke our all-time records for loggerhead and green sea turtle nests on South Hutchinson Island! We had a total of 5,492 loggerhead nests (the previous record was 4,426 in 2016) and 1,067 green nests (the previous record was 576 in 2019). This represents a 24% and 85% increase, respectively, over our previous records. Not only did the IRG crew have a busy season, but the entire state of Florida also had its highest loggerhead and green turtle nesting year…EVER! Here’s the importance of these numbers: Sea turtles are long-lived, late-maturing animals. We are now seeing the benefits of conservation practices that were put in place 20-30 years ago. This year’s nesting season infers that there are numerous, healthy adults in both the loggerhead and green turtle populations. While this is great news, unfortunately, our hatchling success rates are declining, which can severely impact the population in another 20 years. Climate change and other anthropogenic factors are affecting the viability of sea turtle nests around the globe. Higher temperatures mean fewer nests are producing healthy hatchlings. Here are some ways to help minimize our impact: leave the beaches clean, dark, and flat during nesting season, minimize the use of single-use plastics, properly dispose of waste, reduce your carbon footprint, and most importantly, spread the word. Together we can protect our sea turtles!