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Sea Turtle Monitoring at St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve Quick Topics

Management activities at St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve have been discontinued as of July 1, 2011. This page describes one of the former ecosystem science programs which will be restarted should revenue streams improve.

The Gulf beaches of St. Joseph Peninsula serve as nesting habitat for the threatened loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) and the endangered green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). St. Joseph Peninsula has the highest density of nesting loggerheads in the panhandle, with an average of 250 nests each year.

The volunteer-based Turtle Patrol monitored the beach from the state park to the Stumphole. This group was sponsored by the Central Panhandle Aquatic Preserve Office. Volunteers have monitored sea turtle nesting since 1995. Nesting season is from May 1st to October 31st.

  Sea turtle hatchling

Since 2002, sea turtle nesting numbers have drastically declined. Increasing development, lighting issues, beach driving and severely eroded shorelines may all play a role in this decline.

  • Litter and recreational equipment left on the beach at night can obstruct nesting females and hatchlings and damage nests.
  • Tire ruts can hinder hatchlings from reaching the sea and vehicles can damage nests.
  • Beach cleaning rakes can penetrate or uncover nests.
  • Beachfront lighting on or near beaches can deter female sea turtles from nesting and can interfere with their sea-finding ability after nesting is completed. Artificial beachfront lighting causes hatchlings to become misdirected during their trip to the water.

The seagrass beds of St. Joseph Bay provide foraging habitat for the endangered juvenile green sea turtle and for the Kempís Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), the most endangered turtle in the world. Population models suggest that the most crucial stages for sea turtle population recovery include juveniles, which utilize nearshore habitats as development grounds, while sub-adults use them as foraging areas.

More information on the Sea Turtle Monitoring Program at St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve is available in the St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve Management Plan.

 

Last updated: December 13, 2012

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