LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. (FOX 13) - It's that time of year again. Sea turtle nesting season typically starts May 1 and there are already signs it could be a good year.
Cyndi Seamon showed FOX 13 evidence of a nest on the beach on Longboat Key. Her good eye and experience help track the mother sea turtle's journey.
"She's coming up. You can kind of see where she nested," Seamon pointed out.
The turtle chose higher ground to lay her eggs.
"It looks like she hit some vegetation. She scattered her sand and came back down and headed back out," said Seamon.
It's one of the first nests spotted this year by folks with the Longboat Key Turtle Watch and Mote Marine Laboratory.
"We did have a good season last year. It wasn’t our record best," she said.
Last year, after red tide ravaged the area, sea turtle nest numbers dropped. Despite that, it still ranked as the third highest since monitoring began more than 30 years ago.
"We certainly saw a lot of turtles that came in dead. We did not see any hatchlings that came in. We are hopeful the turtles that were around got far enough out of the red tide," said Seamon.
Mote Marine Laboratory scientists monitor beaches from Venice all the way to Longboat Key. They've already documented 11 sea turtle nests this year.
"It's a good sign that we are going to at least start strong. I don’t know if it means that we break any records. It may just mean that we have an early season this year," said Melissa Bernhard.
Bernhard said an early season means turtle-friendly lights need to be installed and beach visitors need to clean up after themselves.
Light from waterfront properties could confuse female turtles and her young. When they emerge at night from those nests, they use the natural and dim lighting to find the seas. According to Mote experts, it would be helpful to turn off or shield outdoor lights that are visible on the beach. Closing drapes after dark will also be helpful. Don’t use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach. And don’t shine lights at turtles.
Trash, beach chairs, tents, and manmade holes in the sand could stop mother turtles from finishing their journey.
"They're relying on instinct at this phase of their life so we want to get them to the water as quickly and as harmless as possible," added Bernhard.