2016 A Record Season for Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program

2016 A Record Season for Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program

The researchers and volunteers who work with the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program (BCSTCP) were busy this year – really busy. That’s because 2016 was a record year for sea turtle nests in Broward County.

“We saw the most nests ever in the history of the program, so we don’t mind being busy,” said Derek Burkholder, the Principle Investigator and Director of the program.

For more than a quarter century, NSU has been working with Broward County to administer the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program.

Burkholder, who is a research scientist at NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, said that in 2016 there were 3,567 nests documented on Broward County’s beaches – the most since the program began in 1981 (1,216 nests during the inaugural year). This is an increase of 327 nests from last season and 27 more than the previous record year of 2012 when 3,540 nests were documented. Sea turtle nesting season on the east coast of Florida runs from March 1 through Oct. 31 each year.

Burkholder said it’s too early to say why the numbers jumped so much, but he indicated that the numbers have been rising over the past few years, which he contributes to a better understanding of sea turtles by the public and better conservation and management that has been put in place over the past 20+ years.

“It’s wonderful to see the hard work of so many dedicated people coming to fruition,” Burkholder said. “People are more aware of the nests on our beaches, and we’ve done a good job at protecting them until the eggs hatch.”

Burkholder attributes this progress to a tremendous effort by three volunteer organizations: Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (STOP); South Florida Audubon Society; and Sea Turtle Awareness Rescue Stranding (STARS). Each group helped redirect thousands of hatchling turtles that ventured the wrong way this season and ensured that the turtles made it safely to the water’s edge.

Stephanie Kedzuf, a Natural Resource Specialist in the Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division at Broward County, administers the contract for the BCSTCP.

“We’re very excited about the record-breaking season, but our work is far from over,” she said. “Artificial lighting is a challenge for these turtles, but it’s something that can be remedied. Some ways to reduce the amount of artificial lighting near the beach include turning off unnecessary lights, using ‘turtle-friendly’ red or amber LED bulbs and closing curtains at night.”

Kedzuf said that every little bit – or in this case, every light – can help contribute to the survival of these threatened and endangered animals. Better lighting will make the beaches more attractive to nesting females and ensure that more hatchlings crawl towards the ocean upon emerging from their nests. She said that we all need to work together to make our lights turtle-friendly, which could help Broward County see more record-breaking years in the future.

Burkholder said that female turtles return to the beach where they hatched, and that when more hatchlings make it to the ocean, statistically there is a greater chance of more turtles returning to lay eggs of their own. In Broward, three species of sea turtles – loggerhead, green and leatherback – lay their nests on the nearly 26 miles of beach.

During nesting season, an army of volunteers, marine scientists and NSU students mount up on ATVs and hit the beaches in Broward County looking for evidence of new nests. When they find one, they work to “rope off” the area with wooden stakes and brightly colored ribbon. The team records various information, including the location and date the new nest was laid, and then it’s pretty much a waiting game until the hatchlings emerge and head to the open sea.

During these excavations they may come across hatchlings that didn’t quite make it out of the nest with their brothers and sisters. So, the researchers gather up the “stragglers” and keep them until that night, when they are then released into the ocean to begin their journey.

“There is so much we’ve learned about sea turtles, but there’s so much more we learn every year,” Burkholder said. “Our program is a win-win as it’s great for NSU’s students to have such a hands-on experience and it’s great for the turtles because we’re helping more and more make it to the ocean.”

Some stats from the 2016 sea turtle nesting season include:
  •     3,567 – total number of nests
  •     3,400 – loggerhead nests
  •         137 – green turtle nests
  •         27 – leatherback nests
  •         3 – unconfirmed species nests
  •     285,360–428,040 – potential number of eggs laid on Broward’s beaches
    Highest Daily Nesting Days:
  •         Leatherback: April 9, June 10, 21
  •         Loggerhead: June 15, 20 and 30
  •         Green: June 29, July 1, 11 and 15