New study shows how to help recover endangered loggerheads
Nobody likes a dirty bedroom and sea turtles are no exception.
New research by scientists at the University of Florida shows that removing beach debris helps sea turtle nesting. At cleared beaches, the number of nests rose by as much as 200 percent, the study shows, while leaving the detritus decreased the number by nearly 50 percent.
With many sea turtle species classified as endangered or threatened, restoring nesting habitat is critical to keeping them alive, said Ikuko Fujisaki, the study’s lead author and an assistant research professor of wildlife ecology and conservation with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the sea, but they rely on sandy beaches to reproduce. As humans encroaching on their habitat, sea turtles face an uphill climb to stay alive, said Fujisaki.
The findings are based on an experiment conducted from 2011 through 2014 along the Gulf Coast near Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. The study area has one of the highest nesting densities of loggerhead sea turtles in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The debris in the area were both natural, such as fallen trees and stumps, and man-made, including concrete, pipes and metal fencing that remained on the beach after old military structures were demolished.
During the experiment, researchers recorded locations of nests and false crawls, defined as the number of times that sea turtles emerge from the Gulf waters but do not lay eggs. Researchers also removed large debris. They found sea turtle nests increased where scientists removed debris.
After researchers got rid of debris, sea turtle nest numbers increased 200 percent, and the number of false crawls increased 55 percent, the study showed. In beach sections where debris was not removed, the number of nests declined 46 percent.
“Our results showed that the presence of large debris on a sandy beach could alter the distribution of sea turtle nests by influencing turtle nest site selection,” Fujisaki said.
Fujisaki’s findings are published online in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.