Loggerhead sea turtle nest with tracks leading to and from the water. St. Johns County, south of St. Augustine Beach. 6/6/12
Leatherback sea turtle hatchling. Photo provided by St. Johns County.
Adult leatherback sea turtle heads toward the water as people watch. Photo provided by St. Johns County.
ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- Cindy Waters and her husband were visiting St. Augustine from the state of Washington on Wednesday.
They were strolling along the coast south of St. Augustine Beach when they learned the tracks by their feet were sea turtle tracks.
"I've never seen sea turtle tracks in the sand," Waters noted. "She looks like she was pretty big."
A female loggerhead turtle made the tracks that morning. The area where the nest is located had been taped off.
"There are eggs that have been deposited by the sea turtle and they're incubating in the sand," Tara Dodson explained as she pointed to the small square-shaped area now marked by neon pink tape near the sand dune.
Dodson is the Environmental Coordinator for St. Johns County and she monitors sea turtle nests.
The eggs are "cooking basically, and then there will be little hatchlings that emerge in about 50 days." Dodson explained.
Only a month into sea turtle nesting season, St. Johns County has 153 nests.
"That's about a 40 percent increase over what we had this time last year," Dodson noted.
Over the last six years, Dodson said there's been a steady increase in leatherback sea turtle nests which are the "least occurring of sea turtles that nest in the state of Florida."
"Leatherbacks are the big, prehistoric-looking turtles. They're black. They don't have a hard shell. They have ridges. They're massive," she explained.
Some leatherbacks have been described as the size of a Volkswagen beetle.
The reasons for the increase in sea turtle nests are not clear right now.
State biologists and county conservationists have ideas, but there is no hard data for them yet.
Warmer weather is one possible reason for the increase. Some say the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill may have increased turtle numbers on the east coast. Additionally, the Endangered Species Protection Act went into effect 25-30 years ago. Dodson pointed out that 25-30 years is the time in which sea turtles reach sexual maturity.
Biologist Beth Brost with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it is too early in the season to know "how it will end up."
She did say the reason for the increase so far is a "mystery." Brost does not know why the turtles seem to be nesting early.
Whatever the reason, the sight of fresh turtle tracks and an increase in nests make residents and visitors excited.
Cindy Waters of Washington exclaimed "I'll have to get some photos of this!"
Moments later, she grabbed her camera to snap some shots of something she'd never seen before.
Remember, you can monitor a sea turtle as she swims through the water. Edwina or "Ed" the sea turtle was released in Flagler County two weeks ago. She has a tracking device and her own website. Click here to see where she is now.
First Coast News