Leatherback turtle nest numbers in south Florida double previous record

Leatherback turtle nest numbers in south Florida double previous record

The number of leatherback turtle nests found along some south Florida beaches reached record numbers this year, surprising biologists.

The 79 nests laid by endangered turtles along beaches in Broward county this year is nearly double the previous record, according to the South Florida SunSentinel. The previous record was 46 in 2012, and the record low for leatherback nests was 12 in 2017.

“It’s difficult to say why Broward county saw such an increase in leatherback nesting this season,” Stephanie Kedzuf, a Broward county biologist who specializes in sea turtles, told the newspaper.

Leatherback turtles are the largest in the world and are the only turtle species that lacks scales and a hard shell. Instead, they have tough, rubbery skin and typically crawl on to beaches at night and dig holes to lay their eggs in the sand. When the turtles hatch, they race towards the ocean while avoiding predators such as crabs and birds.

Despite having the widest global distribution of any reptile, leatherback turtles are rapidly declining in various parts of the world. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, leatherbacks’ global population has declined 40% over the past three generations, with the Pacific leatherback being most at risk.

Major risk factors include fishing gear, which can entangle the turtles, degradation of nesting habitats, vessel strikes, climate change and ocean pollution that can cause leatherbacks to ingest fishing lines, balloons, floating tar or oil and other discarded materials.

That said, despite being unable to pinpoint exact reasons behind leatherbacks’ nesting this season, marine life researchers in the past year have pinpointed several theories behind the increase. Covid-19 restrictions that have kept humans and harmful waste off beaches have been shown to have a beneficial effect on the number of leatherbacks in Florida.

“The chances that turtles are going to be inadvertently struck and killed will be lower,” said David Godfrey, the executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, to the Guardian last year.

“All of the reduced human presence on the beach also means that there will be less garbage and other plastics entering the marine environment. Ingestion and entanglement in plastic and marine debris also are leading causes of injury to sea turtles,” he added.

This year’s nesting season ran from 1 March to 31 October. During the season, 2,795 nests of sea turtles of all species were recorded along Broward county beaches, the SunSentinel reported.

This article by Maya Yang was first published by The Guardian on 3 November 2021. Lead Image: A female leatherback digs a nest on the beach. Photograph: Carlos Drews/WWF/PA.

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