A Record Setting Sea Turtle Nesting Season in Broward County, Florida
Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program
The researchers and volunteers who work with the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program (BCSTCP) were busy this year – really busy.That’s because 2016 was a record year for sea turtle nests in Broward County.“We were busy, but it’s all good,” said Derek Burkholder, the Principle Investigator and Director of the program. “We saw the most nests ever in the history of the program, so we don’t mind being busy.”
For more than a quarter century, the BCSTCP has been funded and administered by the Broward County Board of Commissioners, and the Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division (EPCRD) and carried out by Nova Southeastern University (NSU). Burkholder said that in 2016 there were 3,567 (3,400 loggerhead, 137 green, 27 leatherback, 3 unconfirmed species) nests documented on Broward County’s beaches – the most since the program began in 1981 (1,216 nests during the inaugural year). This is an increase of 327 nests from 2015 and 27 more than the previous record year of 2012, when a total of 3,540 nests were documented. Sea turtle nesting season on the east coast of Florida runs from March 1 through Oct. 31 each year. Burkholder said it’s too early to say why the numbers jumped so much, but he indicated that the numbers have been rising over the past few years, which he attributes to a better understanding of sea turtles by the public and better conservation and management that has been put in place over the past 20+ years. “It’s wonderful to see the hard work of so many dedicated people coming to fruition,” Burkholder said. “People are more aware of the nests on our beaches, and we’ve done a good job at protecting them until the eggs hatch.”
Burkholder attributes this progress to a tremendous effort by three volunteer organizations: Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (STOP), South Florida Audubon Society, and Sea Turtle Awareness Rescue Stranding (STARS); each group helped redirect thousands of hatchling turtles who ventured the wrong way this season and ensured that the turtles made it safely to the water’s edge. Stephanie Kedzuf, a Natural Resource Specialist in the EPCRD at Broward County, administers the contract for the BCSTCP. “We’re very excited about the record-breaking season, but our work is far from over,” she said. “Artificial lighting is a challenge for these turtles, but it’s something that can be remedied. Some ways to reduce the amount of artificial lighting near the beach include turning off unnecessary lights, using ‘turtle-friendly’ red or amber LED bulbs and closing curtains at night.”

Kedzuf said that every little bit – or in this case, every light – can help contribute to the survival of these threatened and endangered animals. Better lighting will make the beaches more conducive to nesting females, and ensure that more hatchlings crawl towards the ocean upon emerging from their nests. She said that we all need to work together to make our lights turtle-friendly, which could help Broward County see more record-breaking years in the future. Burkholder said that female turtles return to the beach where they hatched, and that when more hatchlings make it to the ocean, statistically there is a greater chance of more turtles returning to lay eggs of their own. In Broward, three species of sea turtles – loggerhead, green and leatherback – lay their nests on the nearly 26 miles of beach.
Historical Sea Turtle Nesting in Broward County (all species combined)
During nesting season, an army of volunteers, marine scientists and NSU students hit the beaches in Broward County looking for evidence of new nests. When they find one, they work to “rope off” the area with wooden stakes and brightly colored ribbon. The team records various information, including the location and date the new nest was laid, and then it’s pretty much a waiting game until the hatchlings emerge and head to the open sea.
Once a nest hatches, the team then excavates the area being careful to find all the eggs – those that hatched and those that didn’t – as they record more data about the success of each inventoried nest. During these excavations they may come across hatchlings that didn’t quite make it out of the nest with their brothers and sisters. So, the researchers gather up the “stragglers” and keep them until that night, when they are then released into the ocean to begin their journey. Out of 2,274 nests that were excavated and inventoried this season, the team documented 139,170 hatchlings released from inventoried nests in 2016! “There is so much we’ve learned about sea turtles, but there’s so much more we learn every year,” Burkholder said. “Our program is a win-win as it’s great for NSU’s students to have such a hands-on experience and it’s great for the turtles because we are learning more each year on how to best protect and manage their populations and we’re helping more and more make it to the ocean.”

A leading mission of NSU and the BCSTCP is community outreach and education. Some of the educational programming is centered on public sea turtle hatchling releases. In partnership with Anne Kolb Nature Center for the “Sea Turtles and Their Babies” program, an informative “turtle talk” gives participants background information about sea turtles worldwide and especially focuses on the many species found in Florida waters. This program then allows participants to accompany permitted individuals to the beach where sea turtle hatchlings are released; visitors get to witness the beginning of the hatchlings’ long journey out to sea first hand. The generous support of the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation, through their Adopt-A-Nest Program has allowed the BCSTCP to greatly expand education, outreach, research and conservation efforts again in the 2016 season. The program’s sea turtle experts conducted 142 education/outreach events in 2016, connecting with over 50,000 individuals! The BCSTCP team also organized sea turtle seminars and participated in a number of larger table events to reach a wider audience.
Proceeds from The National Save
The Sea Turtle Foundation’s
Adopt-A-Nest Program directly
support the Broward County Sea
Turtle Conservation Program.
Adopt a nest today!
www.savetheseaturtle.org

National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation
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