By Steve Plunkett

The competition between beach-goers and sea turtles for a spot in the sand continued to heat up in 2011. 

Countywide, female loggerheads, greens and leatherbacks dug a record-high 19,552 nests, besting 2010’s record total, said Paul Davis with the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management.

But the new record was slim. “We only increased 31 nests this year,” Davis said.

Davis noted the county’s almost 41 miles of shoreline make up 5 percent of Florida’s beaches but account for 23 percent of the state’s nests, second only to Brevard County.

While the county increase was only 0.16 percent, the beaches from Boca Raton to South Palm Beach had 13.7 percent more nests than the year before. Manalapan was especially crowded, with 1,212 nests along 2.8 miles of shore, 49.4 percent more than in 2010.

Also posting large gains were South Palm Beach (31.2 percent), Lantana, which jumped from 31 nests to 47 on its one-eighth mile of shore, and Ocean Ridge (18.2 percent).

Boca Raton counted an overall 14.8 percent increase in nests and also a record 154 nests by green turtles. Its previous record for green nests was 142 in 2007.

On the minus side were Delray Beach (down 7.9 percent) and Gulf Stream (off 13.5 percent). Highland Beach’s total was down 14.9 percent but still its second-best season in six years.

In 2010, “We actually had a few more nests, but the percentage of our nests to the false crawls, the nests were higher this year,” said Susan Hiles, a volunteer counter and member of the Highland Beach Beaches and Shores Advisory Committee.

Counters mark it a “false crawl” when a turtle comes up on the beach but returns to the water without digging a nest. Highland Beach posted 943 false crawls in 2010, but only 640 last year.

More worrisome to Davis than false crawls was the number of “disorientation events,” when hatchlings head toward artificial light and “urban glow” instead of the ocean. Palm Beach County counted 359 disorientation events affecting roughly 12,000 hatchlings, the second-highest number on record.

Nesting season is March 1 through Oct. 31. 

Leatherbacks usually nest from March to June, loggerheads from May to August, and greens from June to September.

Turtle numbers do not strictly follow town borders. The numbers for Ocean Ridge, for example, include part of Manalapan just north of the Boynton Inlet but stop at Adams Road about a half-mile short of the southern town limits. Gulf Stream’s counting area includes Gulfstream Park just north of town.                                                                   

Total nests                  2010  2011  change nests per mile
South Palm Beach
     618   811    31.2%       396
Lantana                       31       47      51.6%       378
Manalapan               811  1,212     49.4%        433
Ocean Ridge             406   480        18.2%        136
Gulf Stream              453    392       -13.5%       186
Delray Beach             177    163      -7.9%           58
Highland Beach         970    826      -14.9%       277
Boca Raton               723       830      14.8%        167
All 8 areas                 4,189   4,761     13.7%        223
Palm Beach Co.      19,521  19,552    0.16%        477


Sea Turtle Day

Boca Raton’s Gumbo Limbo Nature Center will celebrate its seventh annual Sea Turtle Day on March 3 by opening the first of four new saltwater tanks to the public. 

No turtles will be in the Nearshore Reef tank — the center is still waiting for permits — but longtime resident lobster “Butter” will be joined by other specimens of the reefs found just off the coast. “It’s the next best thing to being on the reef,” Gumbo Limbo Manager Stephanie Ouellette said in a news release.

A mangrove habitat should be in place later this spring followed by habitats showcasing a tropical coral reef and an artificial reef/shipwreck in the fall. The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a tank-side ceremony at 11 a.m. 

Gumbo Limbo suggests an entrance donation of $5 per person. Visitors should park at Spanish River Park and take a free shuttle to the nature center.  

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