National Wildlife Refuge System

Record Sea Turtle Nesting

Green sea turtles are expected to break nesting records set in 2011 by mid-summer.
Credit: Dean Bagley
Each green sea turtle nest has about 100-120 eggs, but only one hatchling in 1,000 survives to adulthood.
Credit: Vince Lamb

Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, FL, is poised to break a record this season for green sea turtle nesting. As of July 16, there were 5,265 green sea turtle nests on the refuge, not far from the 2011 record of 6,023 nests for the entire season. And the green turtles will continue nesting until October.
“We should be screaming from the rooftops,” says refuge manager Kristen Kniefl. “A 13 percent increase in green sea turtle nests year after year is unheard of in wildlife recovery efforts.” Each nest has 100-120 eggs, but only one hatchling in 1,000 survives to adulthood.
The Carr Refuge boasts the highest density of loggerhead sea turtle nesting in the world and the highest nesting density for green sea turtles in North America. Half of all the green turtles hatched in Florida are at Carr Refuge. 
The green sea turtles are expected to break the records set in 2011 before the end of July. Llew Ehrhart is a marine turtle biologist and professor emeritus at the University of Central Florida. He recalls first monitoring nests 30 years ago, when finding 50 nests a season was typical. “It’s hard for me to express in words how incredible that is,” says Ehrhart.  
“This says a lot about the efforts of all the conservation partners,” adds Kniefl. There have been concerted efforts to reduce lighting on the beaches where turtles lay their eggs. Light from cities and developments can fatally distract hatchlings as they move from the nest to the sea. Partners also have helped improve the habitat, coordinate selective predator control, and educate the public. There are more regulations on the fishing industry that protect sea turtles, too.  
In addition, sea turtles are now more likely to serve as an eco-tour adventure rather than as a culinary treat. Kniefl and partners offer guided turtle walks at the refuge five nights a week. In 2012, the refuge was highlighted by CNN as one of the top seven places to view wildlife in the United States. 
Kneifl notes that a lot of credit for the surge in sea turtle populations goes to the Endangered Species Act. All six turtle species found in U.S. waters or beaches have  been designated as threatened or endangered since 1978. It takes a sea turtle about 25 years to reach sexual maturity, so it is not surprising that the larger numbers are only now beginning to appear.

Last updated: July 22, 2013