The Wave

Crawling to Life

Mary Vale, Features Editor

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Every year, loggerhead sea turtles climb the beaches of Southwest Florida to repopulate. The outcome varies, but this year in particular, the numbers have dropped. This data was collected by Mary Kelly Nelson, also known as the “Turtle Lady.” She makes her way out to Marco’s beaches to inspect the sea turtles’ nests every year. Mary proudly explains that she has been protecting the nests for twenty-five years saying, “I started off as a volunteer, and then was hired by the county in 1995.”

Every year, starting on May 1st, sea turtles begin to enter the beaches of Marco Island to lay their eggs. The loggerheads lay their tiny white eggs in a hole that they dig with their flippers in the sand. Between the months of May and October, their nests are visible; yellow caution tape makes them stand out. Up until October 31, the eggs will hatch and baby loggerhead sea turtles will make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The yellow caution tape is strung around the poles outlining the turtles’ nests. It mainly helps track where the nests are and warns visitors not to disrupt the area by participating in activities such as moving the sand. When spotted, the barrier should serve as a reminder to be mindful of what is below.  

This season is one of great importance because our loggerhead sea turtles now appear on the endangered list. This decline and concern in population surfaced on July 28, 1978, mainly due to predators and human disturbances. According to Nelson, people used to harvest the sea turtles’ eggs and kill the sea turtles for their meat and shells. Furthermore, the turtles get caught in nets that people use to trawl for shrimp.

On Marco Island, there were about thirty fewer nests, false crawls, and hatched nests during this season compared to last year’s season. According to the Coastal Breeze’s “Sea Turtle Activity Update,” in last year’s season, the total number of nests was 118, the number of false crawls was 164, and there were 67 hatched nests. This season’s totals were 77 nests, 192 false crawls, and 33 hatched nests. The term “false crawl” refers to a sea turtle that goes onto the beach, but does not lay any eggs. Nelson thinks this decrease is most likely due to construction and beach nourishment.

Given that there are only six months left before the start of next year’s season, Nelson advises the public to prepare to respect the beach and keep it clean, quiet, and dark when the time comes. The loggerhead turtles use the moon to find their way to the ocean, so the residents and tenants with a beach view must turn off their lights or shut their blinds from 9pm until 5am. We all must be responsible in ensuring that these beautiful creatures survive for future generations to enjoy.

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Crawling to Life