Sea turtle nesting season begins Thursday, and experts are hoping for another record-setting eight months on north county beaches.
“This is our best year to date since monitoring programs began,” Dr. Justin Perrault, associate director of research at LMC in Juno Beach told The Palm Beach Post when last year’s season ended Oct. 31. “The numbers show that conservation efforts that were underway 20-30 years ago are now paying off.”
Loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtle nests are documented. Yellow tape is used to mark off the nest areas, which should not be approached.
While leatherbacks, loggerheads and greens are all sea turtles, their behaviors and habitats vary. All are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act because of potential damage from commercial fishing, coastal lighting, boats and other human activities.
LMC is a non-profit organization that rehabilitates and researches sea turtles. About 50 injured sea turtles, such as Amanda, are released into the Atlantic Ocean annually. About 2,000 hatchlings are released annually. The center attracts about 300,000 visitors each year, according to LMC.
The high numbers came last year despite heavy beach erosion this year from Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria.
North county beaches were among the worst hit, according to Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management officials. About a third of the total of 450 feet of dry beach lost to the storms was from beaches on Singer Island and north.
Local officials figure the storms scraped about 1.4 million cubic yards of sand from Palm Beach County beaches that will cost about $40 million to replace.
LMC officials patrol the beaches most days in north county during sea turtle nesting season that ends Oct. 31. They look for sea-turtle tracks leading to nests where females lay and bury their golf-ball-size eggs in about 3 feet of sand.
The efforts to protect nesting turtles include reduced lighting on beaches, the requirement that shrimp boats release sea turtles that get entangled in their nets and public education.
Three records were set last year:
• Highest annual nest numbers: 19,088 (The previous record was 16,335).
• Most crawls: More than 51,000 (The previous record was 42,118).
• Most green turtle nests: 7,807 (The previous record was 5,443).