Sea Turtle Management

Loggerhead Smirk

Each summer, May-September, loggerhead and green sea turtles return to the beaches of Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge to lay their nests

Sea turtles are iconic at many beaches throughout the United States, including those of Southwest Florida and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The US Fish and Wildlife Service actively works to protect sea turtles and their nests to ensure that future generations get to experience these unique animals as well as to maintain biodiversity within the world’s oceans.

At Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, loggerhead and green sea turtle nesting activity has been monitored since 1991. Today’s biologists continue to monitor the presence of sea turtles, their nesting activity, and perform hatch assessments to increase our understanding of and conservation efforts for the sea turtles that feed in our waters and nest on our beaches.

Nest Monitoring

During the nesting season of late spring and early summer, biologists patrol the beaches of Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge to monitor the number of sea turtle nests. Biologists look for signs that a turtle has crawled onto the beach and, hopefully, laid a nest. These signs may include tracks, downed vegetation, and disturbed patches of sand where a nest has been laid. Once biologists confirm the presence of a nest, a predator exclusion cage is placed over it. Buried beneath the sand and fully enclosing the nest, these cages deter predators such as raccoons who attempt to feed upon freshly laid eggs. The date the nest was laid is recorded and the nest is monitored for predation or inundation events until its due date about 50 days later.

Hatch Assessments

Sea turtle nest monitoring leads to sea turtle hatch assessments. This part of sea turtle management is conducted to quantify the reproductive success of each nest. This information ultimately helps resource managers better understand their sea turtle population and variables that may lead to nesting success or failure.

Nests are monitored until the end of hatching season in the early fall. Biologists look for signs that a nest has been disturbed, depredated, or has successfully hatched. These signs include tracks, egg remains, and shifting sands. Biologists then excavate the nests to assess how many sea turlte hatchlings left the nest, how many eggs didn’t hatch, how many total eggs were laid in the nest, and how many eggs may have been lost to the many obstacles sea turtles face. Occasionally biologists come across a nest that is in the process of hatching or a nest that has only a few hatchlings still digging their way out. It is during these exciting occurrences that biologists may work to help hatchlings safely reach the water by providing them with a clear path and keeping predators away.

Data gathered about nest attempts, number of nests, successful hatches, hatchling numbers, and depredation is then reported to county and state agencies who compile statewide sea turtle population estimates.


Summer Beach Camping Closures

A seasonal closure, first of May through the end of September, to camping on the beaches of Panther Key, Coon Key, and Round Key within Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge goes into effect due to nesting sea turtles and shorebirds. Human influences, including campfires, tents, and boats can disrupt nest site selection and safe emergence of hatchlings. 

Southwest Florida’s threatened Loggerhead and Green sea turtles face many natural and human induced obstacles to survive from hatching on beaches to reproductive age in marine waters. In addition to heavy beach traffic that may deter nesting sea turtles, mothers and hatchlings often encounter obstacles created by unknowing visitors. When leaving the beach, please remove all gear and trash, knock down sand structures, and fill in dug holes that my obstruct sea turtles and their hatchlings. Hatchling sea turtles rely upon the shine of ocean water, light of the moon, and the bright horizon to find their way to marine waters. Artificial lights can seriously confuse hatchlings, causing them to travel toward housing security lights or the shine of a flashlight. To help sea turtles, please remember to turn off beachfront lights during the nesting season and be sure to use red, night-time friendly lights if you are on the beach after dark.