Shorebirds and Sea Turtles.
It is always fun to watch the plovers and sandpipers on the beach dashing along the receding waters to dig out a juicy morsel before the next wave approaches. Others, like the pelican and terns, dive into the water to catch their meals while some of the big herons wait for the fishermen to throw them something.There are a large number of species of shorebirds on the beaches of Englewood sharing space with us, such as the American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Least Tern along with the Plovers that nest on the beaches.
From February 1st. to the end of August is the breeding season for these shorebirds and there are certain areas in Stump Pass State Park, as well as on Palm Island, that are roped off to provide a protective space for the breeding adults.
The birds avoid the main beaches and choose isolated areas to lay their eggs. During this period of time the breeding areas are roped off to provide a protected area for the birds. The birds lay their eggs directly on the ground and are not easily seen due to their coloring, which closely matches the surroundings.
Volunteers monitor the area for nesting birds, using binoculars and a scope, and educate the public regarding the habitat of the birds and the impact of humans and animals on their survival.
When nesting birds are disturbed and flushed from their nest, the eggs are exposed to temperature extremes, predators like crows, raccoons and dogs, and risk being stepped on by humans. In some cases the birds will abandon the nest with the eggs with fatal results for the chicks
What can you do to help:
Please stay out of the roped off areas.
Keep your dogs off the beach and most importantly away from posted nesting areas. Birds see dogs well over over 300 ft away and will take flight to protect their eggs or young.
If birds take flight, you are too close.
Stop and chat with the Shorebird Stewards, the possibility is there that they have a nest in view on the scope.
Florida is an important place for the endangered and threatened sea turtles of the world.
There are five species of sea turtles that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. Three species are endangered, Kemp's Ridley, Leatherback and Green, and two are threatened, Loggerhead and Hawksbill.
The decline in the population of the sea turtle include the loss of nesting and feeding sites due to coastal development, intentional hunting, pollution, cold weather and accidental capture in fishing gear. These creatures are well adapted to their ocean environment but they need air to survive. When caught in a trawler net the animal will drown. A "Turtle Excluding Device", commonly referred to as a TED, allows all bycatch above 4 inches to be stopped by the TED and allowed to escape.
During the summer months, there are approximately 50,000 sea turtles in Florida. This makes the state the most important nesting area in the United States. Depending on the source of the data, the maturing age of the sea turtle is somewhere between 10 - 40 years of age.
The female turtle comes ashore at night to lay her eggs starting in May and continues into September. It takes the nesting female 1 - 3 hours to crawl out of the water, make her nest by digging in the sand with her rear flippers, depositing about 100 rubbery eggs the size of ping pong balls in the nest and then covers
Each day volunteers search the beach area during the nesting period to locate fresh nests and mark the area with tape to protect the nest. In some areas, a cage is erected over the nest to protect the nest from animal scavengers, such as raccoons etc. Incubation of the eggs takes between 45 - 75 days. As the hatchlings emerge from the eggs and thrash around, the sides of the nest collapse pushing the hatchings out.
The hatchlings, about 2 - 4 inches in length depending on the species, must now race for the water (often 100 to 200 feet away) towards the brightest light, which should be the moonlight reflecting off the water. Artificial light from houses and buildings attracts hatchlings away from the ocean, the first of their obstacles to survival. Ghost crabs will pull a hatching into it's burrow for an easy meal, and upon reaching the water hatchling make a bite size meal for fish, birds and a host of predators in the ocean. It is estimated that the chances of a sea turtle reaching the age of maturity is 1:1000.
The Loggerhead turtle is the most common sea turtle in the state of Florida. It is listed as a threatened, not endangered species. Named for it's large head it has very powerful jaws used to crush clams and crabs on which it feeds. The female Loggerhead turtle returns to the same beach, where they were hatched, to lay her own eggs.
Loggerhead turtles can survive for 70 years or more.
The Green sea turtle is the second most common turtle in Florida. The Green sea turtle is the only plant eating sea turtle.
The Leatherback turtle is the largest of all species that live in the water. Fully grown, these turtles can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds and grow to 8 feet long. The biggest difference from other turtles is that it doesn't feature a hard shell. It does have layers of oily skin there instead. They tend to live in both waters that are cold and those that are warm so they are quite adaptable. Their main source of food comes from jellyfish. However, their bodies have a hard time digesting them so many of them die due to an intestinal blockage. They also consume other items in the water that resemble jellyfish including plastic bags (pollutant that will block their digestive system).
The Kemp's Ridley sea turtle is one of the smallest in the world. They weigh only about 100 pounds and they are from 2 ½ feet long to 3 feet long. They are gray and green in color with some yellow underneath their shell. Their diet includes jellyfish, mollusks, and a variety of small fish.
The Hawkbill sea turtle features a heart shaped shell on its body. As the turtle gets older that heart shape will change and the shell will get longer. The head is small and tapered with a mouth that resembles the beak of a bird. The main source of food for the Hawkbill sea turtle is sponges. They are very particular about the types that they consume too. They also consume jellyfish, fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and worms to satisfy their need for food.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
All species of sea turtles fall under the Endangered Species Act and are protected by law.
Do NOT disturb a sea turtle nest. If you see a nesting sea turtle, give her ample room, do not disturb (no flash pictures) and allow her to crawl back into the water when she has completed her task.
If you are visiting or live near the beach you can help by keeping outside lights off during nesting season (May - October).
Make sure you remove chairs, toys, umbrellas and other gear from the beach at night.
Level all sand castles and fill in any holes created, which cause hatchlings problems enroute to the Gulf.
Pick up all trash. Sea turtles mistakenly eat plastic, resulting in eventual death.
Photo credits. Nancy Lingeman & Jeff Snapp. (Boca Grande)
Pixel Maniac. (Englewood)
it by flipping sand over the nest before crawling back into the ocean. Nesting sea turtles are very timid and vulnerable and may be easily frightened away, return to the water and drop their eggs, if they are disturbed.