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A female leatherback turtle crawled ashore in Boca Raton one night last week, dug a hole in the sand and deposited a clutch of golf-ball sized eggs.
Her arrival came a week before the “official” start of nesting season, which began Tuesday and runs through Oct. 31, when seasonal lighting laws take effect across the South Florida coast to protect leatherback, loggerhead and green turtles. No nests have been discovered yet in Broward County.
The Boca leatherback, representing the largest sea turtle species, capable of reaching up to 1,000 pounds, deposited her eggs last week north of Red Reef Park. An alert beach-cleaning crew noticed the tire-like tracks Feb. 22 and informed the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, which protects turtle nests on the city’s 5 miles of beach.
“We rushed out and marked the nest,” said David Anderson, sea turtle conservation coordinator at Gumbo Limbo.
Such early nests happen every four or five years, he said.
“It’s just a female who wanted to get an early start on the season,” he said.
At night during nesting season, people living on the beach or visiting are asked to avoid the use of flashlights or cellphones, close blinds and keep artificial lights shielded or dim. Lights can prevent female turtles from nesting and can disorient newly hatched turtles, drawing them inland, where they can be eaten by birds and other predators or run over.
Although thousands of nests will be laid on South Florida beaches, the season typically begins slowly, with each of the three major species having its own peak, said Stephanie Kedzuf, Broward County’s sea turtle biologist.
“Nesting comes in slow, with leatherbacks in March and April,” she said. “They’ll start nesting in small numbers. Then the loggerheads will start nesting in April. The numbers start going up in May and June, peaking in late June and early July, and then a downturn in August and September.”
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The first hatchlings, which will be leatherbacks, will likely emerge in May, she said.
Last year, in Broward County, there were 2,548 nests by loggerheads, 463 by greens and a record 86 by leatherbacks.
“That was a new record for us in Broward,” she said. “Leatherbacks just crushed it last year.”
David Fleshler can be reached at email@example.com and 954-356-4535.