Sea Turtle Nest Breaks Local Record | News

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Sea Turtle Nest Breaks Local Record
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- St. Johns County is home for Mike Stauffer. He's been here nearly his whole life, so seeing a sea turtle nest on the beach is expected.

"Anyone who has lived here pretty much has always seen some sort of nest with the eggs," Stauffer said.

But seeing one in March?

"I did think this was kind of early," he added.

There is a sea turtle nest in South Ponte Vedra. Bright orange tape and stakes surround the nest to protect it.

Someone spotted the nest this past weekend, before it was marked, and biologist Scott Eastman was notified.

When he first heard about a possible nest, "I thought it was early in the season but worth taking a look at."

He found a classic leatherback sea turtle nest: a disturbed area in the sand and momma turtle tracks on either side, going to and from the ocean.

Eastman described it as a "textbook nest."

However, the timing is not so text book. Sea turtle nesting season does not officially start on the First Coast until May.
"But as we know," Eastman smiled, "turtles don't go along with our official dates."

Leatherback sea turtles sometimes nest a little earlier. St. Johns County has had leatherbacks nest in April, but not ever in March.
Eastman says he has confirmed with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that this is the earliest nesting event in northeast Florida since the state started keeping records in 1987.

He believes the water temperatures prompted the early nest.
According to First Coast News Meteorologist Mike Prangley, the water at the beach is approximately ten degrees warmer than this time last year. Prangley said the First Coast does not usually do not see temperatures in the 70's until mid April.

"Temperature defiantly initiates a lot of migratory and breeding behaviors in other animals," Eastman said, "and I think, likewise, we'll see it in sea turtles."

Eastman says this early nest could indicate a change in nesting patterns.

"It also indicates we may be seeing a longer nesting season."
Eastman added that at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, "We've initiated a two-times-a week survey in March and April for just this event to take place. We're preparing because several areas in Florida -- south of the Cape -- have sea turtle seasons that extend from March through September."

And now that the state is seeing an increase in leatherback nests, Eastman said it's possible the First Coast will see more nests in March and April as well.

Eastman noted that it's important for people who live by or who use the beach to be "mindful of the lighting." He said residents already minimize their lighting and remove their beach gear during regular nesting season months, but they may want to consider doing that a little earlier now.

As for Stauffer, he likes the wildlife in the place he calls home.
"I find it interesting to be in an area that has such a natural surrounding to it."

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