SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month

Possible record? Turtle tagged by Loggerhead Marinelife Center laid 8 nests this season

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

JUNO BEACH — Months into a turtle monitoring project that will likely take years to complete, Loggerhead Marinelife Center says it already has surprising results.

One of seven turtles tagged earlier this year, a female named Pappas, has laid eight nests since the spring. After scouring the scientific literature, the center’s staff suspect Pappas has hit turtle parenting record territory, tying for the most confirmed nests by a loggerhead in one season.

>>Keep Reading: Shift in weather pattern brings in banner crop of sargassum

Loggerheads typically lay four to six nests per season in Florida, said Justin Perrault, the center’s director of research. In Palm Beach County, nesting season stretches from March through the end of October.

”This turtle that laid eight, we really just couldn’t believe it,“ Perrault said. ”We were expecting, you know, four to six and to kind of almost double our expectation was really interesting.“

David Godfrey, executive director of the Gainesville-based Sea Turtle Conservancy, said eight loggerhead nests in one season typically is the most “you ever hear about.”

Several factors are at play, Perrault said.

One is pure geometry: a turtle’s size. A bigger turtle could have a larger capacity to carry eggs, Perrault said. But with a shell 40 inches long, Perrault said Pappas isn’t remarkably large.

>>More: Manatee deaths in Florida increase in 2020, and experts aren’t sure why

He guessed it has more to do with her overall health and high-quality food in her foraging ground. Based on data from the small transmitter attached to her shell, Perrault thinks Pappas’ favors the waters of the Bahamas.

Satellite tagging has long been part of Loggerhead's operation, but typically the turtles tagged were those being tracked after having spent time in the center’s hospital.

In a project that began this spring and will likely continue for years, staff at the Juno Beach non-profit are tagging nesting turtles to gather more information regarding the frequency and number of nests laid by a loggerhead in a given season, Perrault said.

This helps researchers get a better sense of how many turtles nest in a given area, said Kristen Mazzarella, senior biologist at Mote Marine Laboratory’s sea turtle conservation and research program in Sarasota.

It also has implications for conservation, Mazzarella said.

“Satellite tagging is going to tell you where they go in between nests and how much time they spend there. And you can locate areas that might be important to protect during nesting season so people aren’t driving boats through those areas or fishing,” Mazzarella said.

Like Godfrey, Mazzarella isn’t aware of a loggerhead laying more than eight nests in a season. But eight isn’t unprecedented. In 2008, a Mote-tracked loggerhead named Thunder nested eight times, she said.

At about $4,000 each, satellite tracking devices don’t come cheap, Perrault said. Money from Palm Beach Gardens-based Illustrated Properties and the Sea Turtle Grants Program, which Godfrey leads, paid for Pappas’ transmitter.

The transmitters ping stronger signals when the turtles are out of the water, so Perrault said researchers have observed as many nestings as they can. They saw four of Pappas’ nestings and data suggest there were another four, Perrault said.

“We’re very confident in that she laid eight clutches because everything made sense timing-wise and just location-wise,” Perrault said.

One thing that ping won’t give away is Pappas’ age, but she is likely at least 30 years old, because that’s when loggerheads reach sexual maturity, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Service.

Loggerhead personnel monitor 9.5 miles of beach in northern Palm Beach County for nests laid by loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles. It’s been another big nesting season so far. Through Tuesday afternoon, the center tallied 14,695 nests this year, including 12,031 loggerhead nests.

But don’t expect a record-breaking ninth nest from Pappas. Tagged in April, Perrault said Pappas last nested July 14 and is back at her likely foraging grounds in the Bahamas.

“After laying about 800 eggs, she deserves a break.”

showard@pbpost.com

@SamuelHHoward