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Hurricane? What hurricane? Record year for loggerheads may link to past conservation efforts

 Charles LeBuff with the Caretta Research Jeep.
Caretta Research, Inc.
/
Special to WGCU
Charles LeBuff with the Caretta Research Jeep.

More than 1,000 loggerhead nests were counted on Sanibel and Captiva islands. Research shows Sanibel is averaging about five times more loggerhead nests compared to the 1970s and ‘80s.

Sea turtle nesting season ended in October and it was a record season for loggerhead sea turtles on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation counted more than 1,000 loggerhead nests on the islands.

SCCF analyzed data and found that Sanibel is averaging about five times more loggerhead nests compared to the 1970s and ‘80s.

“These trends could be a result of successful initial conservation efforts,” said Savannah Weber, a sea turtle biologist for the foundation.

 Charles LeBuff measuring a post-nesting loggerhead.
Caretta Research, Inc. / Special to WGCU
/
Special to WGCU
Charles LeBuff measuring a post-nesting loggerhead.

WGCU recently spoke to Betty Anholt, who was involved in early sea turtle conservation efforts on Sanibel alongside Charles LeBuff and her late husband Jim Anholt.

"Very early on, my husband Jim got involved with Charles LeBuff who had founded Caretta Research, which was all about the loggerhead sea turtle that was rare on the islands and getting rarer all the time," she recounted. "They worked during the summer season. To try to increase the numbers of the turtles, they salvaged turtle eggs and hatched them."

Today, sea turtle nests are kept on the beach, marked, and protected. Decades ago, one practice was to move vulnerable eggs into enclosures.

Anholt described an unforgettable moment from those early days when the couple ran a gas station on Sanibel.

"One of the things we did at the station was stored five-gallon plastic buckets that we're full of beach sand, where we had moved the eggs from the turtles. We would dig them up rather than leave them on the beach, at that point in time, and put them in the buckets covered with sand to the correct depth and waited for them to hatch," she said. "When they were hatched, we would take them down to the beach and very often have a big crowd of kids especially to release them to the sea and basically celebrate."

But nature often takes its own course and Anholt said one hatchling nest hatched early and overflowed the bucket.

 Leucistic hatchling loggerheads with one normal colored. These were discovered in nests when monitored after hatching.
Caretta Research, Inc. / Special to WGCU
/
Special to WGCU
Leucistic hatchling loggerheads with one normal colored. These were discovered in nests when monitored after hatching.

"And this was at the corner of Bailey Road which was a dirt road and Beach Road, off of Periwinkle. … My kids were out playing and warned me that turtles are escaping. And we went rushing out and picking up baby turtles. There is usually, in a nest, approximately 100 turtles, so you know, they were all over the place," Anholt remembered. "And we ran halfway to the beach about a half mile or so picking up turtles. We called the Sanibel police. And they came out and helped us pick up turtles and got them all safe and to the beach."

At the time, conservationists were still figuring out the best ways to protect the turtles. It is now illegal to harm, harass or take turtles, their eggs or their hatchlings. Loggerhead turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Jim Anholt and Charles LeBuff weighing a post-nesting loggerhead.
Caretta Research, Inc. / Special to WGCU
/
Special to WGCU
Jim Anholt and Charles LeBuff weighing a post-nesting loggerhead.

National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration Fisheries list nine distinct population segments are listed as endangered or threatened. This means that the loggerhead turtle is in danger of extinction, now or in the foreseeable future, throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Charles LeBuff driving in a nest stake with reflective tape.
Caretta Research, Inc. / Special to WGCU
/
Special to WGCU
Charles LeBuff driving in a nest stake with reflective tape.

When Anholt joined efforts to try to save Sanibel sea turtles, she recalled seeing dozens of nests in a single nesting season.

The most recent season ended in October. And more than a thousand loggerhead nests were counted on Sanibel and Captiva, according to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

The foundation took over sea turtle monitoring from Charles LeBuff and Caretta in the early 90s. SCCF says it’s one of the oldest such programs in the country.  

 Anholt is delighted to see their work pay off — so many years later.   

"It's just been really wonderful to see the sea turtles expanding the way that they have been in the last several years," she said. "The turtles that are coming back now could very likely have been those of 40 years ago or 30 years ago. You feel related to them. They're almost like grandchildren, because you know that many years ago, you may well have saved those turtles."

Copyright 2023 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

The Caretta Research leadership in 1975 during a pre-nesting season in 1975.
Caretta Research, Inc. / Special to WGCU
/
Special to WGCU
The Caretta Research leadership in 1975 during a pre-nesting season in 1975.

Janine Zeitlin