By Willie Howard
Sea turtles dug good numbers of nests on south Palm Beach County beaches and set a nesting record in Ocean Ridge during the 2016 season.
But hot, dry weather is being blamed for a relatively low number of hatchlings from nests on several south county beaches.
Preliminary, unofficial data for the nesting season that ended Oct. 31 show a record 637 turtle nests for the north end of Ocean Ridge — specifically, the 2.28-mile stretch from a quarter-mile north of Boynton Inlet south to Adams Road.
That’s 68 more nests than in 2012, the previous record year there, said Kelly Martin, an environmental analyst for Palm Beach County.
Martin said the nesting record was set because of a strong showing by loggerhead turtles, which dug 613 of the Ocean Ridge nests. Green turtles dug 13 nests, down from 64 last year. Leatherback turtles dug another 11 nests.
Martin said the drop in green turtle nests was not surprising because green turtles nest every two or three years. She expects larger numbers of green turtle nests in Ocean Ridge in 2017.
Despite the record nesting year in Ocean Ridge, the percentage of hatchlings dropped to about 66 percent, down from 73 percent last year, Martin said.
“Many people are attributing the drop in success to the hot and dry weather we had during the first half of the season,” Martin said.
In Boca Raton — the 5-mile stretch from Highland Beach south to the Broward County line — monitors counted 785 nests. The unofficial tally includes 729 loggerhead nests, 38 green turtle nests and 18 leatherback nests.
The Boca Raton nesting numbers represent an above-average year for loggerhead and leatherback turtles and an off year for green turtles, said Kirt Rusenko, marine conservationist for Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, who oversees sea turtle nest monitoring in Boca Raton.
Loggerhead turtle nesting statewide has been on the rise since 2010, Rusenko said.
Conservation measures, such as ordinances limiting lights that discourage female turtles from crawling ashore, could be responsible for the increase in loggerhead nesting. A natural cycle also could be responsible, Rusenko said.
The bad news: Rusenko said the number of turtle hatchlings emerging from this year’s crop of eggs was well below what it should have been because of the hot, dry weather.
The Boca Raton hatchling count of 26,685 represents a success rate of just over 42 percent, Rusenko said. The success rate should be 85 percent or better.
“Most nests literally cooked in the sand,” Rusenko said. “There were a large number of dead, unhatched eggs.”
Nests shaded by beach vegetation and structures fared better than those that had no sun protection, Rusenko said.
Highland Beach nest-tracking coordinator Barbara James said the heat also affected hatchling production on the 3-mile stretch between Boca Raton and Delray Beach she checks with help from 25 helpers called “turtle rangers.”
“We had cooked eggs for sure,” James said. “We didn’t have any rain to cool them off.”
James said hatchling production improved after rainy weather in the late summer.
Unofficially, between 1,200 and 1,300 turtle nests were counted in Highland Beach — about average, James said.
Delray Beach did not release preliminary sea turtle nesting numbers for 2016. Environmental consultant Christine Perretta, who oversees nest monitoring for Delray Beach, said city officials preferred to wait for the official tally before releasing any data.
In Gulf Stream, the 2.6-mile stretch that includes the southern part of Ocean Ridge, Gulf Stream and Gulf Stream Park produced an average number of nests.
Coordinator Jackie Kingston said she had not produced a preliminary nesting total for the beaches she oversees, but she did not expect this year’s nest count to exceed the 968 total counted last year.
By Willie Howard