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Sea Turtle Nesting Season Start Looks Healthy Five Years After Gulf Oil Spill

Florida Fish and Wildlife Via Flikr

It’s been five years since the Gulf oil spill, and five seasons of sea turtle nesting later, the St. George Island Volunteer Turtlers haven’t seen any abnormalities.

The group of turtle conservationists had shipped turtle eggs during the spill down to Cape Canaveral so hatchlings wouldn’t swim into oil after leaving the island. Florida’s Marine Turtle Permit Holder on St. George Island and volunteer coordinator for the island’s Volunteer Turtlers, Bruce Drye, said these particular baby turtles will likely return to their incubation island to make nests of their own in roughly 20 years.

“They finished incubating in our sand in a cooler before they were released so we are theorizing that these turtles will return to St. George Island.”

Nesting season began here in the Panhandle on May 1st, and will last through October 31st. The vast majority of the sea turtle nests are Loggerhead turtles, though an occasional Green turtle or rare Leatherback turtle has been seen. In that six month period of time Drye said it’s normal to see a certain amount of variation in the number of nests. So far, just over half a month after the season began, the area of St. George outside of the state park already has ten.

“We expect to have anywhere from 80 to 120 nests,” Drye said.

Sea Turtles can get distracted by artificial light sources at night, following them instead of the moon when they crawl up the shoreline, interrupting their nesting practices.  Jenna Harper, the manager of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, said this has been occurring frequently near St. George.

“Turtle disorientation due to lighting has been a continuing issue on St. George Island for the last several years,” Harper said.

Two months ago lighting ordinances for Franklin County were updated to better accommodate turtles for this nesting season, changing the defined areas of light that affect the turtles coming ashore to nest.

“We’ve had a lighting ordinance in our county since 1998 and it was recently amended to include amber LED light bulbs and it was also amended to cover the area of enforcement a little bit better,” Drye said.

Changing light bulbs is one way that St. George Island has been continuing to conserve and support sea turtles who come to lay their eggs on the island’s shore. Five years post the Gulf oil spill, it seemed that sea turtles and their nesting habits are remaining steady around the waters of St. George.