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First sea turtle nest of the season found on Venice Beach

Turtle nest on beach
Mote Marine Laboratory
This is the first sea turtle nest of the season that was found by Mote Marine Laboratory volunteers

For 43 years, Mote Marine in Sarasota has been documenting sea turtle nests on the areas' beaches.

The first area sea turtle nest of the 2024 season was found over the weekend by Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program.

The loggerhead sea turtle nest was found on Venice Beach. It marks of the beginning of a crucial period for sea turtle conservation.

It was found by members of Mote's Sea Turtle Patrol, which includes more than 300 volunteers. They began monitoring the Sarasota area beaches on April 15 and will continue through the end of October. Their patrols include beaches from Longboat Key south to Venice.

“Even though sea turtle nesting season isn’t officially supposed to start until May 1, we like to be prepared and patrol early to make sure we catch the first signs of nesting on our beaches,” said Melissa Macksey, senior biologist and conservation manager of the program. “Our enthusiastic volunteers and interns make patrolling 35 miles of beaches possible. We could not do it without them. They are the reason we were able to catch this early nest.”

Loggerheads are considered a threatened species, even though they are the most common species on southwest Florida nesting beaches, followed by endangered green sea turtles. In recent years, Sarasota County has also hosted a handful of endangered Kemp’s Ridleys, among the smallest and rarest sea turtles.

During nesting season, the project's staff and volunteers document nesting activities, which allows them to analyze trends, the timing of nesting events in relation to the seasons, the number of nests in a given area, the number of eggs in a nest that produces live hatchlings that surface, and environmental impacts.

Each nest is marked with yellow stakes and flagging tape.

According to Mote, the number of nests have increased on local beaches in recent years. In 2023, Mote reported 4,284 nests from Longboat Key to Venice.

You can view Mote’s weekly counts of sea turtle nests within the patrol area at www.mote.org/2024nesting.

“Now that we have identified the first nest of the season, we implore beachgoers to be conscious of the sea turtles while enjoying Florida’s unparalleled beaches,” said Macksey. “There are many simple ways to help protect sea turtles and their nests. Hatchlings will have a better chance at surviving if everyone does their part.”

Aerial view of a green sea turtle swimming over sand ripples in the water.
Andre Johnson/Getty Images
/
iStockphoto
A green sea turtle peacefully swimming over sand ripples in the shallow waters just off a beach in South Florida.

How to protect sea turtles

  • During nesting season, it is important to keep local waters and beaches sea turtle friendly.
  • Sea turtles are swimming just offshore to mate before the females come ashore to nest, juvenile turtles are feeding along the Gulf Coast, and by early summer the first hatchlings will venture into Gulf waters.
  • On the nesting beaches, light from waterfront properties can disorient nesting female turtles and their young, who emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea. Beach furniture, trash, and other obstacles can also impede sea turtles and their young.

Onshore

Do:

  • If you encounter a nesting turtle or hatchlings, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
  • Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
  • Close drapes after dark and stack beach furniture at the dune line or, ideally, remove it from the beach.
  • Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.

Do not:

  • Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, or shine lights at turtles.
  • Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach.
  • Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
  • Use fireworks on the beach.

For more details, please refer to local sea turtle ordinances, including Sarasota County’s marine turtle protection code (which includes Lido, Siesta, Casey and Manasota Keys), the city of Venice marine turtle protection ordinance, and the town of Longboat Key marine turtle protection ordinance. An updated Longboat Key ordinance took effect in 2022. For questions about any sea turtle code or ordinance, contact code enforcement staff from each municipality.

On the water

  • Follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles and other large marine life.
  • Be sure to stow trash and line when underway. Marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a truck can become ingested by or entangled around marine life.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine life in your path.

Emergency contacts

If you see a sick, injured, or stranded sea turtle, dolphin, or whale in Sarasota or Manatee county waters, contact Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program at 888-345-2335. Outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

If you suspect that someone is tampering with a sea turtle nest, harassing a sea turtle, or has possession of a sea turtle or any of its parts, please call FWC or your local sheriff’s department.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.