Tuesday, May 11, 2021

4,778 Sea Turtle Hatchlings at Kice and Cape Romano Islands

Rookery Bay Research Reserve Sea Turtle Program has been monitoring sea turtles on the uninhabited islands of Kice and Cape Romano since 2003. According to sea turtle monitor, Sarah Norris, the Reserve has counted and monitored approximately 1,654 nests!

The Reserve’s 2018 sea turtle season reported a record high of more than 10,000 loggerhead hatchlings, which is the highest number since 2006, when the Reserve started monitoring and caging nests at the Complex. Rookery Bay Research Reserve Director Keith Laakkonen called 2018 “an amazing year for nesting.”

Thus far in 2019, the Cape Romano Complex has recorded 104 total nests and recorded 4,778 hatchlings!

Every morning around 8 AM, the team would take the boat from the Rookery Bay Research Station in Goodland and check all the nests in the Complex for signs of hatchings. One morning, author joined sea turtle monitors, Sarah Norris and Jared Franklin for a monitoring visit to the Cape Romano Complex.


September 28th is the free annual Celebrate National Estuaries Day.
Please register online at www.rookerybay.org.

Sarah and Jared were excited as they never know what they are going to encounter each day – it is always different on the water; or maybe the day will be cut short due to the weather.

The Cape Romano Complex is an important nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles according to the Reserve’s website. But it is the hard work of staff, interns and volunteers that ensures its success. It means walking and searching miles of beaches for turtle tracks; caging nests to prevent predation by raccoons; collecting relevant data and recording GPS coordinates for each nest.

One day last season, the monitors noticed a great blue heron needing rescue on Kice Island and brought it back to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. The heron received care and was later released by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

According to Sarah Norris, during the sea turtle season (May-October) the female sea turtle will come ashore to lay multiple nests per season. The females hang back and return in about 10-14 days to lay another nest. Females lay an average of about four nests. This information is confirmed by the nighttime research that is being done by the Conservancy. The average number of eggs in a nest is from 80 – 120 eggs and Sarah has seen a low of 42 and upwards to 140 eggs.

In these isolated islands, the nests are caged to protect them from predators such as raccoons. A wire cage is placed on top of the nesting area and fitted down 6-8 inches into the ground. The ends fold outwards so if a raccoon starts to dig and hits the flap, that is enough to deter them.

These are referred to as “self-releasing cages” where the hatchlings can easily fit through and crawl out on their own.

Sometimes they may encounter a hatchling still in the nest and they will place it on the beach, allowing it to make its way to the ocean – an important process called “imprinting.” It means that the female hatchling will know to return to the same beach when it is mature enough to lay its own eggs.

Adopt a Sea Turtle Nest and Help Support the Cape Romano Sea Turtle Program:

  • Your name on the cage and at the Environmental Learning Center.
  • A letter with details of nest location and anticipated date of hatching.
  • A second letter with hatchling results.
  • Invitation to the Fall Sea Turtle Support Party.
  • Visit www.rookerybay.org for information.

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