Mote reminds people to be aware of sea turtles during nesting season

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Many of us have our favorite beach that we like to visit during the summer. Sea turtles have their favorites too. They return to the same beach annually to lay their eggs.

Volunteers have helped Mote Marine Lab monitor sea turtle nests for more than thirty years. And despite the annual message of being careful during nesting season, many turtles end up at Mote Marine’s rehabilitation center because of human-caused problems.

We hear the same message every year of how to help sea turtles have a successful nesting season. "We can shield our lights so they are not visible from the beach. We can fill in our holes on the beach so the turtles don’t get trapped and their hatchlings end up in there,” says Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine spokesperson.

But every year we still hear stories of how human behavior negatively affects turtles. “We got a report of her about 12:30 in the afternoon that she was stuck about a mile off Longboat Pass,” says Rebeccah Hazelkorn, a staff biologist at Mote Marine Laboratory. She helps care for injured turtles like Mrs. Turt Lee, a 230 pound loggerhead turtle rescued and named by the Coast Guard on Sunday. “Basically just drove up on the animal and then corralled him into the litter.”

Coastguardmen Jose Perez was on the crew who helped rescue the injured turtle on Sunday. When they found the turtle she had an object sticking out of her shell and could not dive very deep. “Once we knocked the piece of whatever piece was in the carapace out with the boat hook, we were trying to corral it that actually assisted the turtle to dive a little bit more.”

Due to the crack in her shell, air was able to enter her body and she could not stay submerged. After a few minutes, the Coast Guard was able to pull her aboard and transport her to Mote Marine.

“A lot of the turtles that we bring in that are candidates for rehab that are still alive and need to be rehabbed, unfortunately most of them are human interaction events meaning they have been struck by boats, meaning that they are entangled in crab traps or hooks in their body.”

Nesting turtles can also run into trouble when trying to lay eggs on the beach. “Recently on Longboat Key we had a turtle that got a chair stuck on top of her back. And so some of the sea turtle patrol volunteers that work with us here at Mote were out here and they were able to get the chair off of her, and she made her way back to the sea and was okay,” said Rutger.

But because of the chair incident, the turtle did not lay eggs. It is just another example of how our carelessness can affect the behavior of wildlife.