There are five species of sea turtles that nest on Florida’s beaches. The most common is the loggerhead. The green turtle and leatherback are also found frequenting beaches throughout the state. The Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill sea turtles nest in Florida but not very often. All five species are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Sea turtles are considered to be a keystone species within their ecosystems. The extinction of any one of the many sea turtle species would affect many other organisms within both beach systems and marine systems. Loggerhead sea turtles are considered a keystone species because their eggs actually nourish grass dunes along beaches. They are often referred to as floating reefs because their shells act as a home to as many as100 different species such as barnacles, small fish, algae and shrimp.
The green sea turtle is essential to the health of sea grass beds. Those that are grazed by the green sea turtle are much healthier and balanced than beds that are not. Hawksbill turtles are known for eating sponges which prevents them from overtaking slower growing corals in reef systems. Sea turtles also eat jellyfish, helping to stabilize their population.
The necessity of the sea turtle is recognized by The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. It coordinates two different sea turtle monitoring programs: the Statewide Nesting Beach Survey and the Index Nesting Beach Survey. Both programs track nesting data in hopes of understanding and promoting the overall health of the sea turtle.