September 2019
Turtle Tracks Newsletter
Sept Membership Meeting
Cancelled due to Hurrican Dorian.
Rescheduled Date TBA

"Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Restoration Blueprint: How to Get Involved"
Presented by Chris Bergh

Presentation will cover the genesis of the FKNMS, their natural and economic resources, threats to their viability, and how to engage in Sanctuary’s Restoration Blueprint process with the goal of better protecting those resources. Followed by a Q&A with Chris. Don't miss this very special event!!

Click the link below to view a short video about the FKNMS and to learn more about the Blueprint.
Meet Harry, The Olive Ridley Sea Turtle!
Olive Ridley sea turtles are the most common sea turtles, but it is extremely rare to find one in the Keys. Harry was found entangled in an abandoned fishing net off of Tavernier in February.

After being treated for his injuries and rehabilitated by The Turtle Hospital, Harry was released from Higgs Beach In Key West on Thurs, Aug 22nd sporting some new "jewelry" including tags and a satellite tracker provided by the Loggerhead Marine Life Center. We will soon be able to track Harry and see if he remains in the Keys, or travels back to the his "home", possibly in Mexico or the Indian Ocean, where Olive Ridleys are most common.

Have you ever swam with a Sea Turtle?
Story and Videos by Sherri Crilly, SAT VP
Videos above: Left: loggerhead encounter NFH Right: Loggerhead encounter Looe Key Reef
Photo Center: Hawksbill Newfound Harbor Marine Sanctuary off Big Pine Key, Fl
Probably not, as sea turtles are quite elusive creatures who don't typically like to socialize with humans....which is actually a good thing as it increases their chances of survival.

However, if you have ever been snorkeling or diving and a sea turtle happens to cross your path, I can tell you from personal experience, it is truly a magical event. Since moving to the Keys in 2014, I have had just a few encounters with sea turtles while snorkeling and each one is unique and quite memorable.

My very first encounter was with a tiny hawksbill that I happened to swim above, who was resting on the bottom of the reef, camouflaged amongst the rocks and coral below. I was able to dive down a few feet and observe him/her a little bit closer, and oh how beautiful he/she was. One year later, in nearly the same spot, I saw another hawksbill, just a little bit larger than the one from the previous year. I like to believe it is the same turtle coming back to his/her special spot here in the Keys. What makes this encounter so very special is that hawksbill sightings are very rare down here. Flippers up for encounters 1 and 2! (photo center)

My next encounter was nearly 1 1/2 years later when I was exploring some coral heads on Looe Key Reef. The tide was very low that day and I had to swim around the coral heads as opposed to above them. All of a sudden a big beautiful loggerhead was swimming right towards me! My heart stopped! I froze in place as I didn't want to scare her. She swam right up to me, I mean within 2 feet of me, turned around and continued on her way. I followed her for quite some time, keeping my distance, my heart pounding from excitement and the exertion, until I poked my head above water and realized how far I was from "My Boat" (yes...that's the name of my boat). Logic took over and I stopped following her, and just floated peacefully, watching as she disappeared from my view. And yes....I got some great video footage! (video above right) Flippers up for encounter 3.

My most recent encounter took place 7 months later, once again at NFH. This time it was a gigantic male loggerhead. I know this because of the size of his tail. Males have very long tails. My cousins were visiting from Canada and we were planning on going out to Looe Key. However, the weather was not cooperating that day, so for safety reasons, we detoured to NFH, which is just off shore. I was never so happy to have the weather keep me close to land. Just as we got in the water, this loggerhead came swimming by! Big, beautiful and graceful. And another heart stopping moment of sheer joy for all three of us. No more words are needed to describe this encounter. Just watch the video above left. And flippers up for encounter 4.

I spend a lot of time snorkeling in the lower keys. So much time that many friends have dubbed me a real mermaid. With the hundreds of hours I have logged underwater, I have only had a sea turtle swim near me four times. However, I do see scores of turtles while driving my boat. Observing turtles on the surface, whether it be breathing, sunning, or mating, is just as wonderful as seeing them below. There is an area my husband calls "the turtle grounds". Part of our run out to the reef includes passing through this area. We always slow the boat way down, "putt" through and smile every time we see a turtle swim by or happen to hear their deep exhale of breath as they surface. Some days we may only see two. Other times we will see so many we can't count them all. Either way, whether it's above or below the water, when you come across a sea turtle, it's very exciting and it is by far, one of the main reasons why I love living in the Florida Keys.
Florida Keys Nesting Update
Photos above Left to right: Cone and hatchling flipper tracks depicting a hatch, unhatched loggerhead egg, pipped loggerhead hatchling (not fully formed)
Well, as we stated last month, this has definitely been an off season for turtle nesting in the Keys. We started out strong with lots of false crawls in May and June, but our females don't seem to be returning with lots of nests. Typically half of the crawls are generally false, so there is no need for concern. But the mainland is seeing a record number of nests this season! One 9.5 mile stretch of beach in the Jupiter area has over 20,000 loggerhead nests already this year.

Back to the keys....to date, the few select beaches patrolled by Save-A-Turtle volunteers have produced a lower number of nests with an average hatch success rate yielding over 1200 hatchlings with a few nest still incubating. Note that this number does not reflect the entire Keys, only those monitored by SAT.

Earlier this month we had a false loggerhead crawl which is rather late in the season for this species. Hopefully she will return. Green turtles and hawksills are late nesters. While both are rare for the keys, we do see a few green nests each season and we had 1 successful hawksbill nest last year at Bahia Honda. So we are continuing our morning patrols of the nests waiting to hatch and hoping some greens will still show up to deposit their precious clutches.
Their Planet

Photos Left to Right: Recent cleanup photo of lost flip flops found on the beach, Their Planet logo designed by founder Kassie Melton, volunteers during a recent clean up.
Although here in the Keys there’s always been environmental groups working for the environment, since Hurricane Irma, there’s more than ever, each working exceptionally hard for the greater good. One of these groups is TheirPlanet , a teen group founded and run group by Key West High School freshman Kassie Melton. So far, TheirPlanet has hosted 2 clean ups on Big Pine Key this month with more in the works. Kassie is a 14 year old Key West High School freshman who took a school assignment from last year and brought it to life. The first clean up this month was on August 11th where 27 volunteers (12 of which were kids) came and removed approximately 800 lbs of trash in 3 hours from a beach. The second clean up this month was August 18 where 9 volunteers came out. Currently the debris weight is still being calculated by authorities from that pick up . TheirPlanet has scheduled cleans up every Sunday morning on Big Pine Key until they can tackle all of Long Beach. After, they will be moving on to the next shore line. "Long Beach is the perfect beach to start with" states Kassie. "Turtles, birds, crabs, Key deer and many other animals I don't know about come to this beach, its THEIR PLANET, and we need to clean it up.” You can follow Kassie and TheirPlanet on Facebook. Next Clean up is Sunday August 25. Volunteers are asked to meet at 1997 Long Beach Road on Big Pine at 8:00 am for a cleanup set for 8-11 am. Even if you can only come out for a short time you are needed! TheirPlanet has gloves, bags and water to refill your bottles with, all that is needed are your hands! Once again, youth leads the way for a brighter future. Thank you Kassie, flippers up!
Adopt a Baby Turtle....or 2 or 3.... Today!
Doppler, Our SAT Ambassador
See Doppler's Story
Your Adoption Certificate
Click video above to see SAT members rescue hatchlings trapped in a nest.
With hatching season upon us, why not show your support for our Save-A-Turtle volunteers by adopting a baby turtle! For as little as $15, you can name your turtle and you will receive a PDF certificate suitable for framing. 100% of all proceeds go directly to SAT to fund our efforts to protect and preserve our precious sea turtles here in the Florida Keys.
Report Sick, Injured or Dead Sea Turtles in Fla to FWCC at 888-404- FWCC