Lights Out to Save the Turtles

Community efforts to save the beloved sea turtle yield a record season

Following the moonlight to the sea. Photos courtesy of Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Following the moonlight to the sea. Photos courtesy of Conservancy of Southwest Florida

By day, our beaches are populated with sunbathers; by the light of the moon, from March through October, female sea turtles lumber through the sand to lay their eggs. One of the oldest creatures on earth, the sea turtle is an endangered species, with only one in 1,000 surviving to adulthood. In addition to the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, Florida statutes afford protection to the species, as well as to the habitat of the marine turtle.

Even with laws in place, saving sea turtles has become a community endeavor. The Collier County Parks and Recreation Sea Turtle Protection Program surveys more than 22 miles of beaches daily from May 1 to October 31, monitoring sea turtle activity. A report of its efforts is compiled every year and available online for all to read.

Baby sea turtle
Baby sea turtle.

Data has shown that adult sea turtles nest more frequently on dark beaches. Since 2007, Collier County Parks and Recreation staff members have been in charge of diminishing light pollution on the beaches during nesting season, conducting semimonthly investigations to ensure all lights capable of being turned off are done so by 9 p.m.; any others must be dimmed or diffused.

Measuring the head size of a nesting loggerhead sea turtle
Measuring the head size of a nesting loggerhead sea turtle.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida began a sea turtle monitoring project on Keewaydin Island approximately 40 years ago to protect nests from predators like raccoons, ghost crabs, armadillos, and opossums. This past season, researchers documented record nest numbers—counting well over 600 on the seven mile stretch of beach. Since 1982, research teams have documented more than 8,200 nests, helping 380,000 hatchlings. Through the years, the sea turtle program has been supported primarily through philanthropy.

Even small grants are making a difference. Collier County Parks and Recreation received $1,500 from the Collier Community Foundation this past season for reusable sea turtle nest cages on Vanderbilt Beach, protecting thousands of eggs from wildlife depredation. Since 2018, the foundation has awarded $5,500 to the cause. 

Securing a turtle nest
Securing a turtle nest.

This past summer, by mid-July, more than 300 more sea turtle nests were already recorded on Collier County beaches than the previous year, slowly helping the sea turtle recover from its endangered species status.

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