Tag Archive: Nesting

Sea Turtles of the Panhandle: 2016 Nesting Numbers and Notes

Sea Turtles of the Panhandle: 2016 Nesting Numbers and Notes

There are five species of sea turtles that nest from May through October on Florida beaches. The loggerhead, the green turtle and the leatherback all nest regularly in the Panhandle, with the loggerhead being the most frequent visitor.  Two other species, the hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley nest infrequently.  All five species are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Due to their threatened and endangered status, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Fish and Wildlife Research Institute monitors sea turtle nesting activity on an annual basis. They conduct surveys using a network of permit holders specially trained to collect this type of information.  Managers then use the results to identify important nesting sites, provide enhanced protection and minimize the impacts of human activities.

Statewide, approximately 215 beaches are surveyed annually, representing about 825 miles. From 2011 to 2015, an average of 106,625 sea turtle nests (all species combined) were recorded annually on these monitored beaches.  This is not a true reflection of all of the sea turtle nests each year in Florida, as it doesn’t cover every beach, but it gives a good indication of nesting trends and distribution of species.

If you want to see a sea turtle in the Florida Panhandle, please visit one of the state-permitted captive sea turtle facilities listed below, admission fees may be charged. Please call the number listed for more information.

  1. Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory, 222 Clark Dr, Panacea, FL 32346 850-984-5297 Admission Fee
  2. Gulf World Marine Park, 15412 Front Beach Rd, Panama City, FL 32413 850-234-5271 Admission Fee
  3. Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, 1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548 850-243-9046 or 800-247-8575 Admission Fee
  4. Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Center, 8740 Gulf Blvd, Navarre, FL 32566 850-499-6774

To watch a female loggerhead turtle nest on the beach, please join a permitted public turtle watch. During sea turtle nesting season, The Emerald Coast CVB/Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council offers Nighttime Educational Beach Walks. The walks are part of an effort to protect the sea turtle populations along the Emerald Coast, increase ecotourism in the area and provide additional family-friendly activities. For more information or to sign up, please email ECTurtleWatch@gmail.com. An event page may also be found on the Emerald Coast CVB’s Facebook page: facebook.com/FloridasEmeraldCoast.


Author: Laura Tiu – lgtiu@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent – Okaloosa and Walton Counties

Laura Tiu

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/06/03/sea-turtles-of-the-panhandle-2016-nesting-numbers-and-notes/

Local Bluebirds Have Started Nesting

Local Bluebirds Have Started Nesting

Bluebirds are very energetic birds. If you enjoy watching wildlife in your yard, now is a fantastic time to put up a few bluebird houses. You might gain hours of entertainment watching all the hard work these small birds put into gathering materials to build nests and gather food to feed their chicks.

In the Panhandle, bluebirds begin in March to create their first nests of the year. They carefully weave a basket of pine needles and twigs, and line it with fine grasses. Photo by Holly Ober.

March is when bluebird nest-building begins in the Panhandle. Believe it or not, these enterprising birds are likely to continue building nest after nest from now through July or even August!

The reason we can observe bluebirds more closely than many other birds is because they prefer to nest in cavities situated in open, sunny locations. These birds readily use nest boxes because natural cavities in clearings are quite scarce.

If you’re considering putting up a nest box to attract bluebirds, be aware that these birds are rather fussy when it comes to selecting nest boxes. They prefer structures that are approximately 4”x4”x9” or 5”x5”x9”. These structures could be rectangular, cylindrical, or wedge-shaped. It’s best if the entrance hole is 1.5” in diameter, and located about 5” above the floor of the box. Each house should be mounted on a pole 4-8’ above the ground.

We have been conducting an experiment the past few years to determine which of three common nest box designs local bluebirds prefer. The three types of houses we tested were:

  • traditional wooden rectangular house (4”x4”x9”)
  • Gilbertson (cylindrical houses made of a PVC tube with a wooden floor and roof)
  • Peterson (wedge-shaped houses made of wood and covered in metal, with a sloping floor and roof).

We tested bluebird preferences for 3 types of houses: the traditional rectangular wooden house (left), the Gilbertson (cylindrical house of PVC, center), and Peterson (wooden wedge-shaped, right).

We put up 18 houses during the summer of 2013 and have been keeping track of the number of nest attempts, eggs laid, and chicks fledged ever since. The ambitious birds using these 18 houses have fledged 124 chicks during the past three years! The standard rectangular wooden houses have performed best, with bluebirds laying an average of 8.3 eggs per house per year, and fledging 4.3 chicks per house per year. The other two house types performed similarly, with bluebirds laying an average of 4.3 eggs per house per year in each. An average of 2.4 chicks fledged from each of the Gilbertson houses each year, whereas 1.8 chicks fledged from each of the Peterson houses each year.

Regardless of which type of house you choose to put up for bluebirds, be sure to place the houses at least 100 yards apart. These birds are very territorial and will not allow other bluebirds to nest nearby.


Author: hollyober – holly.ober@ufl.edu


Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/03/18/local-bluebirds-have-started-nesting/

Sea Turtle Nesting Season Has Officially Ended… and what a season it was

Sea Turtle Nesting Season Has Officially Ended… and what a season it was

October 31st not only reminds all that the ghost and goblins are out and about, but that the sea turtle nesting season is complete for another year. These federally protected animals typically begin nesting in late April and continue into the month of October – but there is almost always someone late to the party…

Young loggerhead sea turtle heading for the Gulf of Mexico.  Photo: Molly O'Connor

Young loggerhead sea turtle heading for the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Molly O’Connor

What is neat about sea turtles is that their nesting beaches are usually always in the same general vicinity – meaning Pensacola Beach turtles are Pensacola Beach turtles… each year – and it is always great to see them come back. And this year, come back they did…


I have data collected by Gulf Islands National Seashore going back to 1996. The number of hatching nests on Escambia County beaches has ranged from a low of 8 (2005) to 52 in (2011); it has averaged around 25 hatching nests each year.  This year was different…

This year, within the National Seashore, we had a total of 68 nests in Escambia County, 56 of which were on Santa Rosa Island. This is great news!

59 of the 68 nests hatched (87%) – which is also great news – typically only 10-20% of diamond back terrapin nests avoid predators. Most of the sea turtle nests lost this year were due to flooding from tropical storms in the Gulf.  There was one nest between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach that was raided by a coyote and I am sure there were depredated nests all along the panhandle.  But again, between 75-90% of terrapin nests are lost to raccoons, so the sea turtles had a good year.  A recent report from southwest Florida states the same – a record nesting season for the Gulf coast.


However, there is still one problem lurking out there… disorientation…


Disorientation occurs when these successful hatchlings emerge from the sand and head the wrong way – typically towards artificial lights. Sea turtles are attracted to shortwave light (blues, greens, and white).  Much of our artificial lighting falls into those wavelengths – and attract hatchlings.  Since 1996 between 30 – 89% of Escambia County nests have shown signs of disorientation; the average is 49%.  This year 63% of the Escambia County nests showed disorientation behavior.  We are lucky that we have dedicated turtle watch volunteers to step in and correct these – but they cannot be there for all hatchings – we really need to alter our lighting.  Longer wavelengths (yellow and red) do not attract most hatchlings, and therefore – are considered “turtle friendly”.  Switching our outdoor lighting to these colors, reducing the illumination, lowering the elevation of the lighting, and shielding the light to direct it towards the ground all help reduce the disorientation problem.


Most panhandle counties have some form of coastal lighting ordinance to address this problem and problems with other wildlife. Ordinances vary some from county to county but the basics are the same; keep it long, keep it low, keep it shielded. Keep it long refers to the wavelength – usually less than 560nm (in the yellow/red portion of the spectrum).  Keep low refers the height of the light fixture.  If it can be placed at a lower height this is preferred, if not shielding the light source to direct down is required.  We must also remember indoor lighting.  This can be reduced by simply closing the curtains, moving lamps away from windows, or using tinted windows (if you are replacing yours).  Who has to be wildlife friendly varies from county to county, so property owners should contact their Sea Grant Extension Agents if they have questions.  There are funds available to help some complete this process and this to varies from county to county.


It’s been a great nesting season, let’s make it even better by reducing the amount of disoriented hatchlings.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/11/04/sea-turtle-nesting-season-has-officially-ended-and-what-a-season-it-was/

5 Things You Can Do to Help Sea Turtles During Nesting Season

5 Things You Can Do to Help Sea Turtles During Nesting Season

It is May and this is the official beginning of the sea turtle nesting season. These ancient creatures have followed this nesting cycle for centuries traveling the open ocean, feeding and resting on reefs, then returning to shore in the spring and summer to breed and lay their eggs on beaches and barrier islands. What is neat is that Dr. Archie Carr discovered they return to the same beaches near where they were born. So those visiting our beaches are in a sense, “our” turtles. Another interesting fact about panhandle sea turtles is that a significant number of male turtles are produced here. Gender in most turtles is determined by the temperature of the egg during incubation in the sand; colder temperatures producing males. Since the panhandle has cooler temperatures than the lower peninsula of Florida, we produce the majority of the males for our populations. This is also why we have fewer nests than south Florida, since it is the females who return to shore.


Tracks left by a nesting Green Sea Turtle.  Courtesy of Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Tracks left by a nesting Green Sea Turtle. Courtesy of Gulf Islands National Seashore.

However, in the last 50 years more and more people have moved to the beaches and barrier islands of the panhandle and the sea turtles have run into problems continuing their ancient cycle. Four of the five species of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico are currently listed as endangered; the loggerhead is listed as a threatened species. Though they have issues with natural predators much of their trouble is due to human activities. HERE ARE FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP SEA TURTLE NESTING THIS SEASON.


  1. Offshore, more and more turtles are being struck by boats. These are air breathing reptiles and need to surface. Unfortunately nesting season is also during the height of fishing and diving season. Many boaters must follow no wake zones to reach open waters and want to open up the throttle when they do. As with manatees in our rivers we ask that you keep a lookout for the surfacing heads as you are heading to and from your destination.
  2. Both offshore and inshore sea turtles are encountering more plastics in the marine environment. Turtles become entangled in discarded fishing line and actually consume many forms of plastic debris drifting in the water column. One loggerhead found on Dauphin Island had 11 pounds of plastic lodged in its esophagus, which obviously kept it from feeding properly. When you go boating please develop some method of storing plastics and fishing line until you reach shore. Once you return to the boat ramp please use the fishing line recycle bins to discard your fishing line. Fishing line placed in these are recycled into new fishing line. If there is not a fishing line recycle bin at your boat ramp contact your County Sea Grant Agent to see if one can be placed there. If you are enjoying the beach from shore please discard of all solid waste in trash or recycle cans before leaving.
  3. On the beach many residents and visitors spend the day playing in the sand and building sand castles. This time long activity is great fun but leaving large holes in the sand when you leave has not only entrapped turtles but have been problems for turtle watch and safety vehicles using the beach. Please fill in your holes before you leave for the day.
  4. Another issue on the beach are chairs and tents left over night. Many residents and visitors staying on the beach for a week or longer like to keep their chairs and tents set up for the duration. However this has caused barrier, and sometimes entrapment, issues for the turtles. We ask all to remove these from the beach at the end of the day.
  5. And finally, the lights. 40-50% of our turtle nests in Escambia County are disoriented by artificial lighting. Most panhandle counties do have beach lighting ordinances. We ask both residents and visitors to become familiar with their ordinances and abide by them. Exterior lighting should be low to the ground, long in wavelength (yellow or red), and shielded to direct the light down. Interior lighting can be blocked by closing the shades, moving the light source away from the window, or simply turning them off. All counties’ ordinances have some version of these basic ideas.

With a little help from us, our sea turtles can continue their ancient cycle. These animals are fascinating to see and for many, the highlight of their trip to the beach. If you have questions about sea turtle biology or the local lighting ordinances contact your Sea Grant Agent at the county extension office.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/05/10/5-things-you-can-do-to-help-sea-turtles-during-nesting-season/