July 24, 2013

The Very Lost Loggerhead

Usually when you come upon the tracks of a sea turtle you can clearly see a track leaving and entering the water. This was not the case on Wednesday July 24. We saw only one set of tracks- those leaving the water and heading to the dune. As we followed the tracks up the beach and past the area where she nested it became obvious that something was wrong. The turtle’s tracks continued beyond her nest, up a beach path and behind the dune. After a little searching, we found the exhausted loggerhead under a bush. In all, she crawled 182 feet beyond where she nested. 

The lost and exhausted loggerhead under a bush.

Adult loggerheads are large, the females often weigh 150-200 pounds, so it was apparent we needed help to move her back to the beach. We called on the help of another turtle patrol volunteer who also is a Captiva volunteer fireman. He enlisted the assistance of two of Captiva’s firemen. We carried her back to the beach to preserve what energy she had left. When placed at the high tide line the turtle quickly crawled back into the water and swam away. 

The lost loggerhead finally headed in the right direction.
While the exact reason for this turtle becoming disoriented is unclear, there are two likely possibilities. One is that one or more of the beachfront houses left lights on that illuminated the beach enough to confuse the turtle. Sea turtles use the brightest horizon to navigate to the water. On a dark beach with no artificial lighting that is always the water. Lighting from beachfront houses can confuse sea turtles causing them to crawl away from the water and toward the light. The second explanation is that after nesting the turtle was disturbed by people on the beach. In attempt to crawl away from them, she moved up the beach path and away from the water.

It is important to remember there are lighting ordinances on both Sanibel and Captiva that restrict beachfront light for the protection of sea turtles. Sea turtles are also protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to disturb sea turtles or alter their behavior in any way. 

Sea turtle season continues until October 31. Keep our beaches sea turtle friendly by following these guidelines:
-Shield or turn off all beachfront lights
-Avoid using flashlights on the beach
-Never take use your camera flash on the beach at night
-Fill in all holes. Sea turtles large and small can become trapped in holes.
-Remove all garbage from the beach. Garbage, especially from food & drinks, can attract predators like fire ants and raccoons.

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