By Matthew Lewis, Contributing Reporter

DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – With World Sea Turtle Day coming up on Tuesday, June 16th, the City of Delray Beach is looking to build on the success of last year’s conservation efforts by the community and Delray Beach Public Works staff. In 2019, the city had 361 sea turtle nests, the highest number ever recorded; beating the previous record of 304.

Sea Turtles, Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida
Sea Turtles are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and Florida Statute Chapter 370, photo courtesy of STCP.

Every year beginning in March and running through October, sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs on Palm Beach County’s beaches. During the 2019 season, 290 loggerhead turtles, 56 green turtles, and 15 leatherback turtles came ashore to nest on the City’s beaches.

Gina Carter, Public Information Officer for the City of Delray Beach, shared “All species of sea turtles are listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, meaning they are in danger of extinction or likely to become endangered.”

Confirming, “The three main species of turtle that nest regularly in Delray Beach, and in Florida, are the loggerhead, green turtle and leatherback.”

“In 2019, the City of Delray Beach had a record number of nests on our beach last year for all three species but we also had a relatively high emerging success, which is the percentage of eggs within the clutch that produced hatchlings that successfully emerged from the nest.”

“This is a good indication that both the sand composition, environmental conditions, and other factors last year on Delray Beach were favorable to nesting females. We can estimate that approximately 23,000 loggerhead, close to 5,000 green turtle, and over 800 leatherback hatchlings were born on Delray Beach last year.”

City staff, along with employees from APTIM and Ecological Associates, Inc., hosted several public sea turtle nest excavations last year. During each event, members of the public were led out to a marked nest to observe the excavation and learn about sea turtle conservation.

Ms. Carter added, “The City started a public outreach component to our Beach program in 2019 and is planning to continue the outreach and public education events in 2020.”

“Including several sea turtle nest excavations (three days after natural hatching) to determine nesting success and allow small public groups to learn about our beach programs, sea turtle programs and to see first-hand and learn about the endangered sea turtles nesting on our beaches.”

Sea Turtle Nest, Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida
The City of Delray Beach is planning to continue the outreach and public education events in 2020, including several sea turtle nest excavations, photo by Mike S Payton.

The City says the success seen during the 2019 season is mainly the result of actions taken to reduce sea turtle disorientation, which occurs when artificial lighting on beaches disrupts the ability of nesting females and turtle hatchlings to find the ocean.

The streetlights along A1A were turned off and amber lights were installed along Atlantic Ave. in order to diminish lighting along the ocean.

Sea turtle hatchlings are guided to the ocean by an instinct to travel toward the sky’s reflection off the ocean. Unfortunately, artificial lighting visible from the beach often causes sea turtles to become disoriented, preventing them from finding their way back to the ocean.

Other efforts to reduce sea turtle disorientation included shielding lights nearby residences and businesses visible from the beach, keeping the beach flat by filling in holes and knocking down sandcastles, picking up trash, and removing furniture from the beach at night.

Citizens played a valuable role in these efforts and are encouraged to learn more about sea turtle nesting season best practices by visiting the City’s Beach Projects page.

Sea turtles are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and Florida Statute Chapter 370. It is illegal to harm or harass sea turtles, their nests or hatchlings, and important not to disturb hatchlings, eggs or nests – since hatchlings need to crawl to the sea unimpeded.

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