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Sea turtle nesting season under way on Pinellas beaches

Four stakes and ribbon mark the sea turtle nest found Thursday at Redington Shores. Its location is tagged by GPS.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Four stakes and ribbon mark the sea turtle nest found Thursday at Redington Shores. Its location is tagged by GPS.

The adult female loggerhead was probably a veteran mother, Fort De Soto Park supervisor Jim Wilson thought, as she'd dug and laid her eggs in a dune far from the water's edge.

Before dawn on Thursday, she slipped back into the ocean. Soon after, rangers and a few volunteers drove four stakes into the sand where she labored and tied ribbons to each post, officially marking the first sea turtle nest found this year in Pinellas County.

"This is one of the best times of the year for us," Wilson said. "The shore is alive."

A little more than an hour later, and about 15 miles north, volunteers scouring 26 miles of sand in Redington Shores found the year's second sea turtle nest.

They, too, staked it and tied it with ribbon. Its location was tagged by GPS.

In roughly 55 days, hatchlings will crawl out of the golf ball-sized eggs, spot the moon's reflection undulating on the ocean and head toward the water.

In the meantime, watch your step.

Nesting season has officially begun and should conclude toward the end of October. These nests were laid about a week earlier than the first nests last year, which could signal a good season ahead.

"The last couple of years we've been getting them earlier and earlier," said Mike Anderson, supervisor of sea turtles and aquatic biology at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

In the months ahead, the mothers will crawl up the beaches at night in search of the perfect spot. They will dig a hole the size of a bowling ball with their hind legs, lay more than 75 eggs, and then fill the hole back up with sand.

"Last year (egg laying) was up significantly," Wilson said.

There are seven species of sea turtles, and Florida is home to five of them, Wilson said.

They nest along the Atlantic and gulf coasts, and while Pinellas has seen nests from nearly all five Florida species, loggerheads arrive in the greatest numbers.

During nesting season, beach-goers want to remember to pick up after themselves when they leave so their forgotten chairs or coolers don't become obstacles for the sea turtles.

It's illegal to disturb the nests, whether they've been roped off or not.

In a couple of months, if you see tiny turtles making their way toward the water, avoid touching or distracting them. And for people who live near the 588 miles of coastline in Pinellas, close your blinds, dim your lights and turn off outside lights, because the light tends to confuse the mothers and hatchlings.

Weston Phippen can be reached at wphippen@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8321

Sea turtle nesting season under way on Pinellas beaches 05/08/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2014 8:46pm]
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