In the coming weeks islanders will begin noticing nests on the beach full of sea turtle eggs.
The official nesting season on Sanibel and Captiva occurs annually May 1 to Oct. 31 and officials from the City of Sanibel and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) are asking residents and visitors to be cautious along the 11-miles of shoreline facing the Gulf of Mexico.
Sanibel and Captiva receive more nesting activity than any other beach in Lee County and survival is hard enough -- hatchlings have only a one-in-1,000 chance -- with natural barriers like predators and dehydration, not taking into account the hardships inadvertently posed by humans.
Sea turtle nesting season officially begins on May 1. PHOTO PROVIDED.
Kelly Sloan, the new sea turtle program coordinator at SCCF, said that even though the season officially begins on May 1, some turtles are seen nesting in late April.
"The highest priority item would be to be very aware of the lighting issue and make sure you have shields on all of your lights near the beach," said Sloan.
Nearly all beachside properties are already safe for turtles because of the city's Dark Sky ordinance and neighborhoods in the center of the island have to reach full compliance by January 2015. Excess light is a problem for nesting sea turtles that depend on the moon to navigate from the ocean to the beach and back again. Turtles who nest on the island are also protected by the Sea Turtle Protection ordinance.
City of Sanibel Guidelines for protecting sea turtles:
* Turn off or shield lights near the beaches. Artificial beach lighting can inhibit female sea turtles from nesting and disorient hatchlings. Most beachfront lighting issues can be addressed by turning off all unnecessary lights, repositioning or modifying light fixtures, or closing blinds and drapes.
* Remove furniture and other items from the beach and dune area, when not in use, between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Items left on the beach, including beach furniture, toys, and trash may provide barriers to nesting or result in entanglement and predation of hatchlings.
* Level all sandcastles and fill any holes dug during play. These are fine during the day but may pose additional hazards at night. Please leave the beach as you found it, so that sea turtles and hatchlings are not hindered on their way to nest or to the water.
* Pick up all trash. Sea turtles mistakenly eat debris, especially plastic, which results in death.
* Honor the leash law. All dogs on the beach must be on a leash and not allowed to disturb nesting turtles or hatchlings.
Source: City of Sanibel Natural Resources Department
Other lighting concerns include closing the windows in houses or condominiums near the beach and not using flashlights or flash photography to view nesting turtles.
Besides shielding the beach from excessive lighting, residents and visitors should also fill in any holes they have dug in the beach or level sandcastles, and remove any beach furniture because they could be obstacles for a turtle, especially beach chairs.
"The big thing is if you see a nesting turtle, don't disturb it," said Sloan.
SCCF patrols the beach every morning to mark and monitor nests during season. Waterhead and Green turtles are the two most common on the island, as well as the occasional Kemp's Ridley and Leatherback.
Environmental officials try to predict nesting activity but it's not an easy thing to do. Sea turtles don't nest every year, said Sloan, instead they follow a two-to-three year cycle where they lay several nests in one season. The last two years have been very good for turtles, so nesting in the upcoming season could either be lower, if the turtles are resting, or higher if overall population recovery means more turtles are on the beach.
Violations of any ordinances related to the protection of sea turtles should be reported immediately to the Sanibel Police Department at 472-3111, Sanibel Code Enforcement at 472-4136, or Natural Resources at 472-3700. For more information, visit the Natural Resources Department online at mysanibel.com.