As of August 2018, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported more than 95 sea turtles have washed ashore on Collier County beaches. On average the FWC reports approximately 30 sea turtle “strandings” annually. According to Allen Foley of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, this is about “double the average number of sea turtle deaths in those waters.”
A majority of the affected sea turtles have been mature adults. It takes a loggerhead 25 to 30 years to mature. It’s expected that their deaths will have a significant impact on their recovery as a species.
Maura Kraus, a sea turtle expert for Collier County said that she “fears that this event will have an impact on the species for years to come.” Kraus reported that the area has experienced an above average count of dead sea turtles.
There may be more deaths attributed to the red tide bloom (karenia brevis) as many dead sea turtles just sink in the Gulf of Mexico and never make it to shore. Loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the two species primarily affected by the bloom and are both federally protected species.
Red tide, or the higher than normal concentrations of the red tide algae, Karenia brevis, frequently occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Red tide begins in the Gulf about 10-40 miles off shore and can be moved by winds and currents. This red tide bloom has been ongoing since October 2017 and has overlapped with the sea turtle nesting season, which runs from April through October. It is reported that this is the longest recorded red tide bloom since 2006
The red tide is present in everything the sea turtles eat. As sea turtles are exposed to red tide toxin, they become disoriented, cannot swim properly, and lose their coordination. They may swim in circles and are unable to dive and avoid predators. Many will die from paralysis and unable to lift their heads above the water to breath.
As of September 3, 2018, there are 68 nests this year (121 last year); with 121 false crawls this year (119 last year); and 35 hatched nests (78 hatched nests last year).
Marco had 121 false crawls to date. It means, that the female loggerhead sea turtle dragged herself up the sand looking for the perfect nesting location. This process was interrupted by the presence of people or bright lights and she decided to go back out to sea. These also can cause hatchlings to become disoriented and wander inland. Please keep the beach dark at night for the remaining sea turtle nests on our beaches. They have 1 in 1,000 chance of making it to adulthood!
To report a dead, injured or disoriented sea turtle on Marco Island Call: 239-289-9736 or 239-290-9687.
Photos by Maria Lamb