Speaking of Sharks and Turtles...
by Captain Mike Osborne
National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation Board member Captain Mike Osborne along with Captain Willie Bailey encountered some interesting shark behavior as they were conducting their bi-weekly environmental monitoring surveys near Sugarloaf Key in the Florida Keys aboard the Foundation’s Hawksbill II. They investigated some splashing they noticed in shallow water to find a 6-7 ft tiger shark feeding on the carcass of a green sea turtle. They agreed that they have both noticed an overall increase in the number of tiger sharks they’ve seen in the waters of the Keys, and even hear of the occasional white shark further offshore.
Though it is unfortunate for the turtle in these pictures they took, sharks and sea turtles have been interacting as predator and prey for millions of years, and each relies one one another to maintain healthy populations. Recovering green turtle populations provide more prey for tiger sharks, but also put more pressure on seagrass abundance, which is their own primary food source. Without a balance to offset a growing population, green turtles, much like deer in forests that lack wolves, risk over-exploiting the available resources, and become vulnerable to more drastic population declines resulting from overpopulation. Healthy ecosystems require stable populations at all levels of the food chain, from the very bottom all the way to the predators at the top. Given devastating worldwide reductions in shark populations over the last several decades, recovering green turtle populations may help ensure the future of at least some populations of sharks, and help restore ecosystem balance.
Capt. Mike was also made aware of a very unusual occurence one July evening on Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys. Apparently, a couple enjoying their dinner on the beach were visited by a loggerhead turtle who unhesitatingly laid approximately 100 eggs in a nest she created right next to their table on the seaward side of the island. Not only was it special for the couple, but very interesting to Florida’s turtle recovery efforts: no nests have been reported from Little Palm Island since the mid-1980’s! Perhaps this turtle came from one of those nests back then, and returned to continue her lineage. Which, as far as we know, she did quite successfully: dozens of hatchlings were seen emerging from her nest on an early September evening, all headed straight for the sea!
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