The soaring number of green sea turtle nests may be Florida’s greatest conservation success story to date.
The late Archie Carr, an ecologist at the University of Florida, estimated that there were only 30 – 40 green turtle nests along the entire Florida coastline, at their lowest point.
Preliminary numbers show that green turtle nesting has more than doubled statewide, with one month of the nesting season left.
In the national refuge south of Melbourne Beach, biologists have already counted 11,500 nests in just one 20-mile stretch – doubling the previous high set in 2011.
Llewellyn Ehrhart, a University of Central Florida zoologist, has monitored nesting in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge for decades. “It’s just a miracle,” he said. “This is one of the greatest positive stories in the history of wildlife conservation in America, mostly because they were decimated so badly.”
A multitude of measures enacted over the past several decades are responsible for the rebound of sea turtle nesting in the Southeast part of the country.
Two of the most beneficial efforts are seasonal lighting ordinances adopted by coastal communities, reducing street and building lights that confuse nesting turtles and restrictions on new developments that have preserved crucial nesting sites like the Carr refuge.
“It’s very positive, and 20-plus years of conservation efforts are really starting to pay off,” said Ann Marie Lauritsen, acting national sea turtle coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Ehrhart and Blair Witherington, a scientist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, believe the resurgence really began when the green sea turtle was added to the federal list of endangered species in 1978, thereby banning the harvest of eggs, turtle fishing and any sale of sea turtle meat – domestic or imported.
“When we stopped eating them, that was a pretty big effect,” said Witherington. “Lo and behold, you stop hitting them on the head and killing them, and they come back.”
There has been a huge increase in public support for recovery efforts and sea turtle-friendly ordinances.
Under Florida rules, biologists now save nests that would have been destroyed in the past – in construction sites or below the high-tide line, where waves can expose the eggs.
“After all these years, it really feels like we’re making headway,” said Bill Ahern, Miami-Dade County’s longtime sea turtle conservationist.
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Source: Miami Herald