Turtle watchers combing Pinellas County beaches this year said they spotted three green sea turtle nests, a first for the area in several years.
Green turtles are endangered and mostly lay eggs on the state’s East Coast, said Simona Ceriani, a research scientist with Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Humans decimated the green turtle population, killing them and using their meat in soup.
“It’s a reflection of the fact that the nest count is increasing,” Ceriani said of the Pinellas sightings. The county had not recorded a green sea turtle nest sighting since 2013, she said.
Green sea turtles typically grow up to about 3 feet, 300 pounds and also nest in the Panhandle, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. On the West Coast, Ceriani said, they are more prevalent around Sarasota and Charlotte counties.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which oversees turtle patrols from roughly Dunedin Pass to Treasure Island, reported two of the nests in Pinellas. Both produced hatchlings, according to the Aquarium, but officials did not immediately identify how many. Nor would they disclose exact locations. Pinellas beaches mostly attract loggerhead mothers. Turtle watchers with the Aquarium reported seeing more than 200 nests this year, producing more than 10,000 live hatchlings.
To learn more about the green sea turtle nests, they took genetic samples and sent the material to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Ceriani said this process involves pulling DNA from hatchlings or embryos that did not survive. Researchers do not yet know whether the two nests were laid by the same turtle. Mothers, Ceriani said, release multiple clutches.
Further south, monitors from Sea Turtle Trackers spotted a green sea turtle nest on St. Pete Beach this year, said Theresa Arenholz, one of the group’s directors.
Sea turtle nesting season lasts from the beginning of May through October. Ceriani said before this year, the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute had documented only five green sea turtle nests in Pinellas going back to 1992. It’s impossible to read a trend into just a few nests here, she said, but overall nesting numbers are increasing. Researchers counted two green sea turtle nests in West Florida in 1992, she said; last year that number had risen to about 840.
“West Florida is definitely becoming more and more important,” Ceriani said.
The state counted 53,011 green sea turtle nests overall in 2019, according to Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data.