Green Sea Turtles Making a Comeback in Florida

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Florida’s greatest conservation success to date might be the dramatic increase in the numbers of green sea turtle nests this year, signaling a possible turn-around for this endangered species.

At their lowest point, University of Florida’s late Archie Carr, who was an ecologist there, estimated that there were along Florida’s coastline just 30-40 green sea turtle nests.

There is still a month left in the turtles’ nesting season, and initial numbers show that the amount of green sea turtle nests has more than doubled across the entire state.

Biologists in one 20-mile long area in the national refuge south of Melbourne Beach have counted more than 13,000 green sea turtle nests. This amount more than doubles 2011’s previous high.

For decades, University of Central Florida zoologist Llewellyn Ehrhart has researched and recorded nesting data in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. Ehrhart calls the turtle resurgence “a miracle.” He added that the successful conservation attempts to save the green sea turtle is “one of the greatest positive stories in the history of wildlife conservation in America.”

Several measures which have been put into place have been responsible for the rebound of sea turtle nesting in Florida.

Coastal communities have adopted seasonal lighting ordinances, reducing the numbers of street and building lights near green sea turtle nesting areas. The lights have been known to confuse nesting turtles. Also, crucial nesting sites like the Carr refuge have seen an increased number of green sea turtle nests because of restrictions on new developments.

According to acting national sea turtle coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ann Marie Lauritsen, the conservation efforts of over two decades “are really starting to pay off.”

The addition of the green sea turtle to the federal list of endangered species in 1978, Ehrhart and a scientist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Blair Witherington, believe, was what initiated the comeback of the green sea turtle.

Adding the species to the list made it illegal to take the eggs of the turtles, to fish for them, or to sell sea turtle meat, whether imported or domestic.

Witherington says that there was a very big effect right away “When we stopped eating them.” Hunting the animals for their eggs and meat drastically reduced their numbers, while banning such activities took much of the pressure of the population, and resulted in the resurgence of the species.

Another significant factor in the recovery of the green sea turtle has been due to a “huge increase in public support for recovery efforts and sea turtle-friendly ordinances.”

Under Florida rules, Biologists, under Florida laws and regulations, now are able to save nests that would have been destroyed in the past, like those found sometimes below the high-tide line or in construction sites.

According to turtle conservationist, Bill Ahern, “After all these years, it really feels like we’re making headway.”

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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