July 10, 2019

Contributed
A loggerhead sea turtle, a male, washed ashore on Lower Matecumbe Key recently. While found lying on sargassum, the seaweed may not have contributed to the death. Residents and visitors are asked to be careful to avoid disturbing turtle nests in the area.

Contributed A loggerhead sea turtle, a male, washed ashore on Lower Matecumbe Key recently. While found lying on sargassum, the seaweed may not have contributed to the death. Residents and visitors are asked to be careful to avoid disturbing turtle nests in the area.

ISLAMORADA — With the peak of sea turtle nesting at hand, about a dozen nests have been spotted along Lower Matecumbe Key’s ocean side.

“There are 11 nests with a new one this morning,” Sandi Williams, a Save-A-Turtle beach monitor, said July 5. “It’s really picking up. They’re coming in about one a day now.”

Some early-season nests could be hatching in a week or so, she estimated. Other turtles are arriving to deposit egg clutches with hatchlings emerging about 50 days later.

Not all the eggs hatch, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates “only about one in 1,000 turtles survive to adulthood.”

Central Florida’s Atlantic beaches and remote islands west of Key West attract far more nesting than most of the Florida Keys, but Lower Matecumbe’s natural beaches are a hot spot.

There are not as many prime nesting spots as there used to be, due to erosion along Sea Oats Beach largely caused by Hurricane Irma. The ocean now laps close to U.S. 1, with a thin layer of sand atop concrete blocks placed to protect the roadway.

“A number of turtles have crawled up to the silt fence, which has prevented them from going onto the road,” Williams said. “The fence is awesome in that respect, but the turtles were not able to nest. There’s nothing there but the DOT concrete. But those turtles may come back and find another place where there is sand.”

Recently a large loggerhead male turtle weighing about 250 pounds was found dead along Sunset Beach on Lower Matecumbe.

It lay atop a yards-wide strip of sargassum, the seaweed that has become more of a nuisance as it washes ashore in the Caribbean and Florida.

After consulting with experts, Williams said she doubts the sargassum caused the death.

“There is the possibility that it drowned while mating, but no one knows that for a fact,” said Williams, who examined the dead turtle. “Turtles have been dealing with sargassum long before we came along.”

The remains, marked with a large “X” on the shell to discourage trophy hunters, disappeared. It could have been towed out to sea or been carried away by the tide, she said.

kwadlow@keysnews.com