REDINGTON SHORES — A presentation by an aquarium supervisor who specializes in sea turtle conservation, dug deep into the annual quest to protect sea turtles and their nests.
She revealed information not normally heard about the turtles.
Lindsey Flynn, supervisor of the Sea Turtle Conservation Program at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, talked to the Barrier Islands Governmental Council Jan. 30.
Flynn pointed out that three species of sea turtles nest on Pinellas beaches. The largest and most common sea turtle is the loggerhead. Others are the green turtle and the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, which is currently in danger of extinction.
The Kemp’s Ridley, the smallest species of sea turtle, usually weigh about 100 pounds. The others weigh up to 600 pounds or more.
It is for that reason that Flynn stressed the need to protect sea turtle nests and the hatchlings.
The sea turtle nesting season runs from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year. It is then that the females come out of the water and go along the beach until they find a suitable nesting site.
With their front flippers, they create a depression or “body cavity.” From there she uses her hind flippers to dig down and create a hole that resembles an upside down light bulb. Into that hole she deposits her clutch of eggs, between 80 and 120 at a time.
She will do that up to eight times a season.
“She is a busy, busy lady,” said Flynn.
After that the female turtle heads back to sea, never to see her eggs again.
“She does not provide any maternal care,” said Flynn. “She never sees her hatchlings; they have to fend for themselves.”
Flynn said it is important for Floridians to protect the nests because 90 percent of all loggerhead activities in the United States take place in Florida. The only other place of significant activity is in Oman in the Middle East.
Flynn said the presence of the turtles helps keep the sand on our beaches.
Every year there are many, perhaps hundreds of turtle eggs that do not hatch. Subsequently they decompose and provide fertilizer for plants and growth on the beaches.
“It is this vegetation that holds and protects the sand,” she said.
During times of beach renourishment the nests must be moved. Flynn said in Pinellas County it is a big job but doable. On the other hand, it is impossible for beaches on the Atlantic coast of Florida.
“From Clearwater Beach to Indian Shores we had 182 nests this past season,” she said. “Along a comparable stretch of beach on the Atlantic coast they had 11,000 nests, so it is impossible for them to relocate that many nests.”
She pointed out that it makes beach renourishment that much more difficult.
Flynn said there are several ways the average beach-goer can help the turtles and their hatchlings.
One way is to remove obstacles on the sand: beach chairs, sand castles and the like. If the turtles, which have poor eyesight, encounter such obstacles they have to find an alternate route to their destination.
Another way, one that is common knowledge to most Floridians, is to keep lights dimmed or out during nesting season. The hatchlings use the moon or stars to find their way back to the ocean. They can mistake a house light for the moon and end up in a parking lot, where they ultimately get killed, run over by cars.
“We can do something about this,” said Flynn.
She said there is lighting available now that provides light on a low wave length; it does not attract turtles at all.
She encouraged people who live on the beach to explore using that type of lighting.
During nesting season there are three organizations that oversee the turtle nests along Pinellas Beaches. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium provides coverage from Clearwater Beach to Indian Shores, the Sand to Sea organization looks after the area from Redington Shores to Treasure Island and the Turtle Trackers keep an eye on the nests in St. Pete Beach, Upham Beach and Pass-A-Grille.
Flynn reminded the Big-C members that it was unlawful to “interact” with sea turtles or hatchlings. In other words don’t touch them. Anybody who encounters a hatchling having difficulty call one of the groups responsible for the area or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Most of all, said Flynn, people have to be aware of the turtles and what they mean.
“It is our job, our duty to protect them,” she said.