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  1. Life & Culture

Clearwater aquarium says sea turtle nests are up, but lights from humans are a danger

Also, the juvenile sea turtle brought to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium after Hurricane Nicole has died.
A biologist from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium helps a recently hatched sea turtle find its way from the beach to the water. While sea turtle nests are up this year, the aquarium reported an alarming number of times the hatchlings were confused by artificial lights and headed to hotels and garages instead of the ocean.
A biologist from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium helps a recently hatched sea turtle find its way from the beach to the water. While sea turtle nests are up this year, the aquarium reported an alarming number of times the hatchlings were confused by artificial lights and headed to hotels and garages instead of the ocean. [ Clearwater Marine Aquarium ]
Published Nov. 18

The juvenile sea turtle brought to Clearwater Marine Aquarium after Hurricane Nicole has died. With that sad news, the aquarium issued a report on the close of the sea turtle nesting season, and found that turtle nests are up. But there was an alarming number of times the hatchlings became disoriented and headed toward artificial light from humans instead of the moon, putting them in danger.

Recently, a young sea turtle caught up in Hurricane Nicole in Holiday was brought to the aquarium for rehabilitation, but the little turtle was riddled with cauliflower-like fibropapilloma tumors that proved to be fatal, an aquarium spokeswoman said. He was humanely euthanized due to the aggressive nature of his tumors.

A sea turtle caught up in Hurricane Nicole was rescued by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. He had numerous tumors on his body and eyes and was euthanized.
A sea turtle caught up in Hurricane Nicole was rescued by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. He had numerous tumors on his body and eyes and was euthanized. [ Clearwater Marine Aquarium ]

Meanwhile, on Friday the aquarium released a report on its efforts to monitor sea turtle nests along the shoreline of Pinellas County, one of the state’s most densely populated beach communities.

Loggerhead sea turtles, a critically endangered species, make up a majority of the nests seen along the 21 miles of beach patrolled by the aquarium in northern and mid Pinellas.

Biologists found 313 sea turtle nests, up from 281 last year and 222 in 2020. But observers also found an alarming number of “disorientation events,” or times the hatchlings followed artificial lights from humans instead of the moon. The wee turtles were found in hotel bathrooms, pools and parking garages. Disorientations are deadly for sea turtles and are explicitly caused by humans, the aquarium’s report said.

“While we observed more nests this year than in the previous two we still don’t know how many sea turtle hatchlings actually reach the water,” said Sea Turtle Conservation Program supervisor Lindsey Flynn. “What we do know is that we observed an alarming number of disorientation events for our area that impact how successful the season is overall for the population.”

A biologist from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium helps a recently hatched sea turtle find its way from the beach to the water. While sea turtle nests are up this year, the aquarium reported an alarming number of times the hatchlings were confused by artificial lights and headed to hotels and garages instead of the ocean.
A biologist from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium helps a recently hatched sea turtle find its way from the beach to the water. While sea turtle nests are up this year, the aquarium reported an alarming number of times the hatchlings were confused by artificial lights and headed to hotels and garages instead of the ocean. [ Clearwater Marine Aquarium ]

Flynn said their patrollers were out on the beach and in the roadways for multiple hours in the middle of the night, recovering the disoriented hatchlings.

“This was, in my opinion, our greatest challenge this season,” Flynn said.

The team responded to 173 such disorientation events out of the 200 days this season, with 487 hatchlings receiving help from the vet team.

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“Artificial lightning is our biggest problem in this area and while we have made significant strides with support from our municipalities to make changes, we still have a long road ahead of us,” Flynn said.

A loggerhead sea turtle hatchling makes for the open Gulf of Mexico in 2014. A survey shows a rise in the number of nests this year, but an alarming number of turtles who became disoriented by artificial lights and headed the wrong way.
A loggerhead sea turtle hatchling makes for the open Gulf of Mexico in 2014. A survey shows a rise in the number of nests this year, but an alarming number of turtles who became disoriented by artificial lights and headed the wrong way. [ Times (2014) ]

When humans leave behind beach chairs and big holes in the sand they become obstacles at night as the turtles hatch and head for the water. Simple acts like knocking down sand castles, filing in holes, switching to wildlife-friendly light bulbs and fixtures, and disposing of trash properly can all help save sea turtles, the aquarium report said.

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