Follow-up: St. Johns’ Sea Turtles Make a Comeback

Follow-up: St. Johns’ Sea Turtles Make a Comeback

New born sea turtle walking on the sand coming out from nest

By: Maya Albold

Sea turtles act as key figures in the coastal environment of Florida. This similarly applies to Saint Johns County, encompassing significant amounts of coastline and supporting a variety of beachfront homes, businesses, and industries. In 2018, various sources, such as the Saint Augustine Record, reported on the observed decline in sea turtle populations throughout the region. In an article by Stuart Korfhage, the Saint Augustine Record stated that “In St. Johns County, Tara Dodson, the county environmental supervisor, reported that there were 509 loggerhead nests this year after seeing 639 in 2017 and 819 in 2016.i” The article continued to develop upon the complex process of sea turtle population maintenance and observation. 2018 was designated as a year of obvious decline, but not necessarily unsalvageable damage.

Sea turtle populations are often subject to annual fluctuations, making it increasingly difficult to accurately predict trends and make definitive statements on the condition of the species. Alongside this inherent complication is the fact that the official nesting season does not begin until May of 2019 and the original article was published in February of 2019. Thus, the report exclusively focuses on the trends of the 2018 season. The growth rate of nesting sites and the overall population of sea turtles for the 2019 season was not known at the time and remains subject to change as the season progresses. Despite this, efforts to increase the survival rate and populations of a natural species remain beneficial regardless of their projected growth rates.

Local groups committed to the preservation of the species provide consistent monitoring and regulation of the areas with known turtle presence. As a result, 2019 appears to be an amazing year for local sea turtle populations, with a noticeable rise in recorded nests around Anastasia Island and Matanzas Inlet South. A recent article by the Saint Augustine Record written by Lorraine Thompson reported that “since the start of sea turtle nesting season in early May, 484 sea turtle nests have been established along our beaches, far exceeding the 151 nests at this time last year.ii” The rise of nests throughout the area is a positive sign that the county is making progress towards regaining the populations it once had in the record years of the past. Currently, Leatherback Turtles and Green Turtles that frequent our coastline are ensured protection under Saint Johns County regulations. The Loggerhead Turtle remains under the observant watch of local groups despite its comparatively stable population in Florida. Loggerhead nesting sites were the highest reported for the current season with a total of 468 nests out of the 484 recorded in the county at the time.  The implementation of fines for tampering, dedication of volunteers who oversee the nesting sites, and increased awareness for sea turtle habitats all contributed to the growing statistics.

While natural damages due to the frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms in Florida are difficult to protect against, local citizens can still aid in the recovery of turtle populations by practicing mindfulness in their everyday activities. This includes limiting the usage of lights in coastal areas. Sea turtle hatchlings are extremely vulnerable to the presence of artificial light that may deter them from their journey to the oceans. Turning off lights as soon as they are no longer necessary, practicing a “light curfew” by assigning a designated time to cease light usage, dimming car lights when driving by beachfront areas, and staying off the beaches at nighttime are all beneficial ways to prevent harm to the delicate hatchlings. The projected end of the 2019 nesting season is October 31 and progress continues to be seen in county-wide nesting groups. 2019 is shaping up to be a great year for our turtles!

[1] Korfhage, Stuart. “Sea Turtle Nesting Down in Florida in 2018.” Saint Augustine Record. 14 February 2019. Accessed 15 August 2019.
[1] Thompson, Lorraine. ”AROUND ANASTASIA ISLAND: Sea Turtle Nests Increase on Saint Johns County Beaches.” Saint Augustine Record. 24 June 2019. Accessed 15 August 2019.
Photo: Miami Herald

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