Boca just set a big sea turtle nesting record.
The final count as the season ends Thursday is 913 loggerheads, 393 greens and 18 leatherbacks. Last year’s total for all three species was 793.
“That’s the largest total we’ve ever had since 1977,” when counts started, said Dr. Kirt Rusenko, the city’s sea turtle expert. “We’re definitely happy,” added Rusenko, a marine conservationist for Gumbo Limbo Nature Center that has a sea turtle rehab and research center.
Q: What does this record count mean?
A: It could mean all conservation efforts that started in the mid-‘80s are working. That’s when most of the lighting ordinances came about in Palm Beach County. Boca’s was in 1986. Boca was one of the first.
Q: Is this part of climate change?
A: I wouldn’t think so yet. But all of them started nesting early by a couple weeks. It means with warmer weather, they’re starting to nest sooner. Loggerheads usually start May 1, but we’re seeing them start in early or mid-April.
Q: Does that mean sea turtle nesting season March through October could be extended?
A: That’s only in southeast Florida because leatherbacks start nesting in March. Florida’s west coast, panhandle and north Florida don’t have leatherback nesting.
Q: Do all of them return to the same beach where they nest?
A: Greens and loggerheads do. It means if hatchlings are surviving, more are returning.
Q: Were there any problems this season?
A: We had more bon fires on the beach, which was a bad thing. Hurricane Dorian caused some issues. Nests washed up, but we lost fewer than 80 out of 450. One of the best years we’ve had for washouts, so few washed out.
Q: Are there any nests left on the beach?
A: We have two nests left waiting to hatch that came in after the hurricane. One we’ll check on close to Thanksgiving.
Q: Will that hatchling release be open to the public like the others are?
A: No, but the public can see hatchlings in the research center in our rehab. They wash back in or we collect them from nests when they’re too exhausted to make it to their own.
Q: Is that the only reason they’re in rehab?
A: There’s so much plastic in the ocean, hatchlings eat it. They eat so much they get sick and wash back in. We can tell. They’re quite a bit bigger. They poop plastic or if they die, we necropsy them and see plastic in their gut. There’s more every year. We’ve been astounded how much plastic there is floating on the surface of the ocean.
Q: What happens if they recover?
A: We take them back out by boat to the weed line.