Posted by: North East Florida Beach Homes | April 1, 2012


Leatherback Sea Turtle Gets the Jump on Nesting
It’s not that common to see the nesting tracks from of a 1,000-pound leatherback sea turtle at the
Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. In fact, only 1.28 percent of
turtle nests recorded there are from leatherbacks, compared to 5.04 percent made by green sea
turtles and 93.68 percent by loggerheads. However, to see this happening on March 24 is very
“This nest sighting is the earliest a leatherback sea turtle has nested on the First Coast since the
state began keeping records in 1987. It was definitely a little bit of a shock – I was surprised,”
said Scott Eastman, a DEP biological scientist in Ponta Vedra Beach. “Sea turtle nesting season
officially runs from May to October, though there have been previous sightings of leatherback
nests as early as April 2 in St. Johns County.” Eastman believes warmer ocean temperatures –
about 10 degrees warmer than normal – could be a factor in the early nesting.


The leatherback is the largest and deepest diving of all sea turtles and is listed as an endangered
species. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, leatherbacks
weigh between 700 and 2,000 pounds and reach four to eight feet in length. The nesting
incubation period is typically 80 to 100 days and generally produces 100-115 hatchlings.
During nesting season, there is a Beach Lighting ordinance in coastal communities that consist of
strict guidelines to avoid causing turtles to become disoriented. The ordinance in St. Johns
County, enacted in 1999, includes prohibiting camp and bonfires, tinting windows and replacing
certain lighting fixtures, among other restrictions. Given the early nesting events, residents and
visitors should be mindful of lighting and other beach activities.
GTM NERR staff members are conducting twice-a-week nesting surveys in March and April
that will expand to daily surveys beginning May 1. The nests are marked with bright colored tape and a Do Not Disturb sign. Friends of the GTM reserve is also coordinating an adopt-a-nest program that provides pictures, updates and other information on a nest’s progress with donations going to the reserve.

I have the honor of being the President of the Friends of the GTM Reserve here in North East Florida Beach. Please feel free to contact me about this wonderful slice of paradise where the fresh and salt water combine to create the life rich estuary.

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