Sea turtle numbers from Keewaydin Island

July 14, 2021

Over the years, sea turtle nesting on Keewaydin Island has started off with a bang or sometimes with a whimper. This year is the 39th year of Conservancy biologists monitoring sea turtle activity on the island and this year started off with a whimper.  

This is not unusual since nesting is cyclic. Some years the island is flooded with nests and some years it’s not.  This year started out slow but picked up speed in early June.  

Since sea turtles on average only nest every three years, we use 2018 as an indicator of how much nesting we should expect this year, although sometimes we get thrown a curveball.  One thing that could possibly throw a wrench into the numbers this season is that in 2018 there was a particularly nasty red tide resulting in a large number of sea turtles that washed up on the beach.  

If these were nesting females that should have returned to nest this year, this could impact the nest numbers – we will just have to wait and see.  However, since we are also recruiting new nesting mamas that have come of age this year, this influx could help offset any losses that might have occurred. The good news is we seem to be on track to be on par with the 2018 nesting activity.

As of July 12, 2021, we had 352 nests that were laid on Keewaydin Island.

So, while we may not have a record year, we should have a nesting season that is likely consistent with the cycling nesting nature of these incredible animals.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature did throw us a curveball on July 6 and 7 with Tropical Storm Elsa. While Elsa was not a major storm as far as wind and rain for Collier County, what it did have was very high tides and storm surge that hit Keewaydin Island pretty hard.  

Seventy-two of the nests were washed out and 133 nests were washed over or partially washed out.  While this is depressing, we choose to look at the bright side.

After the storm passed we had 280 nests still on Keewaydin Island that could be potentially viable and the turtles are still nesting. 

Sea turtles hedge their bets by laying many eggs each time they nest and each mama lays an average of 3-4 clutches during the nesting season. This prolific style of reproducing, laying as many eggs as possible, counteracts the numerous obstacles and threats sea turtles face on their journey from eggs to adults, where only one out of 1,000 eggs might make it to adulthood. We are crossing our fingers and toes that no more storms occur that could impact the sea turtles and that we have smooth sailing for the remainder of the nesting and hatching season!