By Debbie Carson, Online Editor
SEBASTIAN INLET — This has been a record season for leatherback turtle nests at the Sebastian Inlet, according to turtle officials at the Sebastian Inlet. Already, park rangers have recorded 11 nests — up from the eight or nine last year.
Overall though, the number of nests from the endangered leatherback and green turtles and the threatened loggerheads are about the same as the year before. “We’re pretty much on track” to record about the same number of nests, said Park Ranger Rick Grimaldi, who leads the turtle program at the Sebastian Inlet State Park. Officials have been logging between 50 and 70 new nests each week on the three miles of beach at the inlet.
He said that many in the field make predictions based on the number of nests and where those nests are located. Those predictions typically focus on weather activity, he added.
“I don’t ascribe to that,” Grimaldi said, explaining, “I haven’t noticed patterns.”
The Sebastian Inlet turtle program is starting to wind down and ends July 31. People register more than a month in advance to reserve a spot on night walks, hoping to catch a glimpse of a loggerhead turtle nesting and laying eggs. Only 25 people are allowed out on the beach at a time.
Grimaldi said that there is a waiting list a page long for people wanting to go on a turtle walk, hoping to get a call that there’s been a cancellation. It’s not too late to be added to the wait list, though chances of getting a call may be slim.
Attendees arrive at the Sebastian Inlet fishing museum at 9 a.m. and watch a slideshow presentation that lasts between 45 and 60 minutes before taking to the beach in search of he nesting loggerheads.
Leatherbacks and green turtles are off limits to the attendees because they are endangered, Grimaldi said.
No flash photography and flashlights are allowed. Participants need to wear comfortable shoes because they could end up walking as much as three miles in the sand.
The walks themselves can last between 30 minutes and 1 1/2 hours, depending on how experienced and how tired the turtle is.
Species nesting at Sebastian Inlet: Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green
No. of nests recorded to date: 11 Leatherback, 24 Green, 427 Loggerhead
Avg. No. eggs in nest: About 112
Nesting beaches: Female turtles return to the beach where they were born, finding it through the chemical composition of the water and the sand.Nest location: “Hot chicks and cool dudes” describes how nesting location and temperature affect the genders of the baby turtles. The farther from the shore the nest, the warmer it is and the more likely the babies will be female. The reverse is true for male babies.
Largest turtle: Leatherback – largest recorded about 2,000 pounds
Description: “It looks like someone threw a grenade,” Rick Grimaldi said of a leatherback’s nest. The turtles tracks are about the width of a Volkswagen.
Weather issues: Fewer nests recorded in July than normal due to increased lightning. Turtles don’t like being on the beach when there’s lightning, according to Grimaldi.