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Fewer Sea Turtles Are Nesting This Season On Alligator Point, St. George Island

Pictured here is a sea turtle swimming in the ocean.
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Part of the panhandle is on track to have one of the worst sea turtle nesting seasons in recent history. That’s according to a volunteer group that monitors turtle nesting.

Michelle Darpel directs the Alligator Point Sea Turtle Patrol. Its volunteers look for signs of turtle nesting along the panhandle beach. Darpel says volunteers have only found three nests so far, a low number compared to the 15 to 20 nests her group usually finds per season. Nevertheless, she's hoping more turtles will come, especially now that the nesting season for Alligator Point is at its peak.

"But even though nesting season is officially May 1 to October 31, we traditionally don't have nesting going on past mid-august here," Darpel says.

That means the window when turtles typically lay eggs is closing. Darpel's group doesn't have an official answer as to why the area has low nesting numbers. But she says it's something they can look into once the nesting season is over.

Mathew Ware isn't surprised Alligator Point is seeing fewer nests this year. He's a researcher with the Florida State University Marine Turtle Research, Ecology and Conservation Group. He says loggerhead sea turtles are the most common type of turtle that nests in the panhandle and says those creatures take two to four year breaks after laying eggs, causing places to have low seasons every couple of years.

"Since the entire population doesn't nest all at the same time, you end up getting these peaks and valleys as you have some of those variabilit[ies] within the population of when they decide to nest," Ware says.

Ware says the panhandle also presents challenges for sea turtles. He says in areas like Alligator Point, beaches erode when storms pass through.

"And what sand is left tends to be much closer to the water. And so, as [turtles] try to nest on these little bits of beach that are left, those nests are more likely to be washed away by subsequent waves or inundated by high tides or groundwater exposure," Ware says.

Ware says Alligator Point isn't the only place in the panhandle having a low year. The FSU group he's a part of monitors and tags sea turtles as they come ashore to lay eggs on St. George Island. Ware says the peak of St. George Island's nesting season has already passed. And so far, they've only found about 125 nests. When usually, at the end of a season, there are nearly 400.

Simona Ceriani is a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. She oversees the agency's sea turtle nesting program. Ceriani says they're still collecting data on this year's sea turtle nesting season. But based on what they have, she says her agency isn't seeing anything unusual in the panhandle. Ceriani says low seasons are only concerning if they're happening consistently, which she says isn't the case for the panhandle. She also says statewide loggerhead sea turtles are having a good nesting year.