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Nesting easy: Turtles make a comeback and swim off

Florida Power & Light’s pole-by-pole restoration of than 1,000 lights along Florida’s coasts began Friday, a day after a record-breaking turtle-nesting season ended.

The company darkens or shields streetlights near the Atlantic and Gulf coasts every year to prevent sea turtles from becoming disoriented as the females crawl up the beaches to lay eggs and hatchlings head out to sea.

“We have a long history of caring for wildlife,” said Amy Albury, FPL environmental services director, citing the company’s rescue efforts at its nuclear power plant in St. Lucie County.

Turtles often are sucked into offshore intake pipes that provide water for the plant’s cooling system. Turtles that are not injured or sick are tagged and returned to the ocean. Injured turtles are taken to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach for treatment and rehabilitation.

At the end of August, 382 turtles had been sucked into the plant’s cooling system. Of those 345 had minor scratches or no injuries. Eight turtles were transported for medical care. Two turtles died.

This year’s eight-month turtle nesting season was among the best on record, especially in Palm Beach County, said Charles Manire, director of research and rehabilitation at the center.

Statewide, 25,553 green turtle nests were recorded on monitored beaches — more the twice the previous record, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which gathers turtle nesting data. Of those, 3,712 nests were on local beaches, Manire said.

The increase is especially dramatic and encouraging since in 1989 only 464 green turtle nests were recorded statewide.

Leatherback turtle nests were down statewide. However, of the 322 leatherback nests documented this year, 100 of those were in Palm Beach County, Manire said.

As for loggerhead turtles, the most prevalent sea turtle species on Florida shores, 44,810 nests were recorded, down from 2012’s near-record count of 58,172. On local beaches, there were 6,564 loggerhead nests.

“These are numbers that really excite us,” said Manire. Turtle nesting fluctuates but is trending upward, Manire said. The center has been gathering nesting data on local beaches for 30 years. However, there is no way of knowing why some years are better for some species and not others, Manire said. “We would love to think that conservation is paying off.”

With turtle season over, FPL is turning its attention to manatees, Albury said. As water temperatures drop during the cooler winter months, manatees congregate near pipes that discharge warm water at the plants, he said. The company has constructed public viewing areas at some plants.

When the warm water stopped flowing at three plants under renovation, the company brought in heaters to keep the water warm.

“The manatees don’t know the plants are being modified,” Albury said.

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