Predation is a natural part of life for sea turtles and one of the reasons that female turtles lay so many eggs. Nests on Sanibel and Captiva are monitored daily for signs of fire ants, ghost crabs, raccoons, and the occasional bobcat causing damage. Luckily, this list is fairly short and the damage done by predators on the Islands is minimal compared to other locales.
This March, our predator list increased by one when a coyote (Canis latrans) was photographed by a visitor at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Luckily, it took Sanibel’s coyote a bit of time to discover sea turtles as a food source. So far, it has targeted nests with hatchlings in the process of emerging from their eggs, but not yet out of the nest. It is probably able to hone in on increase in scents emanating from the nest during this time.
While it is impossible to protect nests from every predator, there are options available to deter many predators. In this case, screening nests close to hatching has proved successful against the coyote. The screens are made of wire mesh approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and anchored by tent stakes. The holes in the screen are large enough to allow hatchlings to emerge from the nest while the screen is in place, but small enough to prevent predators like raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes from digging into the nest.