Trends in Nesting by Florida Loggerheads

A statistical analysis of trends in Florida’s loggerhead nest counts with data through 2013.

A detailed analysis of Florida's long-term loggerhead nesting data (1989-2013) revealed three distinct annual trends (Figure 1). Following a 30 percent increase between 1989 and 1998, nest counts declined sharply over nearly a decade. However, annual nest counts showed a strong increase over the last six years. Examining only the period between the high-count nesting season in 1998 and the most recent nesting season (2013), researchers found no demonstrable trend, indicating a reversal of the post-1998 decline. The overall change in counts from 1989 to 2013 was positive (29.29 percent). Nest counts in 2013, corrected for subtle variation in survey effort, were slightly below the high nest count recorded in 1998.


graph showing loggerhead nesting trends, caption below
Figure 1. The 25 years of nest counts recorded a pronounced increase,
then decline, then increase in nesting. Scientists do not yet understand what
caused these changes. This trend line describing annual loggerhead nest counts
was estimated by fitting a 4-knot restricted cubic spline (RCS) curve to the total
counts via negative binomial regression. The 4-knot RCS model had the greatest
support and appeared to be the best choice from the available set.

 

Scientists estimated (corrected) nest-count points in Figure 1 based on small variations in missing count data among years. These estimated counts differed slightly from the observed nest counts reported in the index nesting beach survey. The curved line describing the annual trend in loggerhead nest counts was estimated using methods similar to the one described in the 2009 publication: Decreasing Annual Nest Counts in a Globally Important Loggerhead Sea Turtle Population.

Hundreds of participants surveyed index beaches and counted turtle nests to collect data for this analysis. All participants hold a Florida marine turtle permit and are trained in sea turtle nest identification. Scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute coordinate the nest counts according to a rigorous protocol to ensure that they reveal unbiased trends.

In contrast to the loggerhead nesting trend, nest counts for green turtles and leatherback turtles in Florida have increased dramatically over the 25-year period. Average increases for these two sea turtle species have been approximately 11 to 13 percent per year. These two species nest on many of the same beaches in Florida as the loggerhead, but in smaller numbers.

Florida beaches are of worldwide importance to loggerhead sea turtles. Approximately 80 percent of the global loggerhead population nests either on Florida beaches or in Oman, a country on the Arabian Peninsula. Florida accounts for more than 90 percent of U.S. loggerhead nesting.

View the article Index Nesting Beach Survey Totals (1989-2013) for more information on how scientists at the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute collect nesting-trend data and for nesting trends of green and leatherback turtles.

 

Loggerheads Face Wide-Ranging Threats to Their Survival

In Florida, coastal development and high vessel traffic present challenges for sea turtle protection. Artificial lighting on nesting beaches causes hatchlings from nests to crawl inland rather than toward the water. On developed beaches, coastal armoring meant to protect buildings from erosion has eliminated nesting habitat where natural dunes once stood. Throughout the state's waters, collisions with boats are the most common identifiable cause of trauma in sea turtles that wash up dead on Florida beaches.

The FWC's conservation work includes assisting the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured sea turtles and expanded efforts to guide coastal construction practices and commercial fishing activities. The agency also works to correct errant lighting that could lead sea turtle hatchlings to their death on developed beaches.

Additional threats to Florida's loggerheads occur far from the state's waters and beaches, throughout the Atlantic Ocean basin. During the approximately 30 years that it takes a loggerhead sea turtle to mature, it will travel widely through international waters and many national jurisdictions. Many drown in shrimp trawls; others get hooked or entangled by open-ocean longlines set to catch reef fish, sharks, tuna and swordfish. Occasionally, mass strandings of dead or sick loggerheads occur without clear evidence of what disease, toxin or event was responsible.

To help protect sea turtles outside Florida waters, the FWC provides nesting data to the federal agencies with management oversight beyond Florida's jurisdiction: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These agencies provide funds for the FWC's sea turtle research and monitoring.

Learn more about sea turtles and threats to their survival by visiting the Sea Turtles section of this website.



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