Halfway through the six-month nesting season, sea turtles on and around Gasparilla Island have made quick work of shattering a 25-year-old record.
The Coastal Wildlife Club volunteers reported finding 3,237 clutches through July 27 - or 91 nests more than the previous record laid in 1998 of 3,156.
That makes 2012 the most active for sea turtle nesting in Southwest Florida since monitoring began in 1988.
Coastal Wildlife Club volunteers excavate nests to determine how many hatchlings matriculated.
2012 bears an asterisk because the record number of sea turtle nests will mostly come up barren. Tropical Storm Debby swamped more than 90 percent of them laid before June 27 with nearly 10 inches of rain. Yet CWC monitors still harbor optimism.
"By about the second week of August, if the weather gods are good to us, we may see quite a few surprise nests from those that hatch at unmarked locations," said Wilma Katz of the CWC. "I hope there will be many that we cannot match with recorded false crawls or with nests laid just prior to Tropical Storm Debby. "
The CWC could not get into some zones for three days during the storm.
To volunteer for the CWC, contact Grace Harvey of Boca Grande at (941) 964-5642.
"The turtles probably continued nesting, and though some of those nests probably washed out, I'll bet a lot are still there," Katz said. "I sure hope so." ?
The Coastal Wildlife Club reported the Gasparilla Island nest count of 373 as of July 27 was 29.5 percent ahead of the 288 recorded the same time a year ago.
Sea turtle nesting also broke a 31-year record on beaches from Longboat Key through Venice, surpassing any annual count since 1991 - the first year of local nest monitoring by Mote Marine Laboratory.
So far this year, 2,324 loggerhead sea turtle nests and three of the rarer green sea turtle nests have been documented by Mote's Sea Turtle Patrol - a group of scientists, interns and more than 300 volunteers who monitor 35 miles of nesting beaches each day. The counts exceeded the previous record of 1,972 nests in 1995.
This year's high numbers are helping offset losses from Tropical Storm Debby, which destroyed an estimated 950 nests. The storm also destroyed many of Mote's basic supplies used to document, mark and protect nests on local beaches.
"Between responding to the storm and documenting this large number of nests, our staff has been working extra hours and we're running low on many important supplies, right when we need them most," said Tony Tucker, manager of Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program.
Loggerhead nesting in Florida has gone through periods of increase and decrease lasting about a decade each - patterns that seem to be influenced by the North Atlantic oscillation, a naturally occurring climate phenomenon that causes broad-scale weather and ocean patterns in the North Atlantic.
To better understand and protect these ancient reptiles, Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program has tagged more than 4,000 nesting sea turtles for identification, documented 1.5 million hatchlings' departure to begin their lives at sea and led numerous other long-term research projects.
Nesting season runs from May through August with most clutches laid in the first half of the season.
The CWC covers Gasparilla Island, Manasota Key and Little Gasparilla Island beaches where nesting is up 826 clutches and 29.5 percent from 2,411 a year ago to 3,237 through July 27. ?
About 3,000 people, mostly volunteers, monitor 800 miles of Florida's nesting beaches, including more than 140 volunteers covering sandy stretches from South Venice to the Boca Grande Pass. Nests incubate 45 to 60 days.
All sea turtle species are considered threatened or endangered under state and federal laws with green turtles particularly rare.
This is the second-straight season of elevated sea turtle nesting after nearly two decades of significant declines. The 2011 season was one of the best in the last 20 years falling 628 short of the record.
It's also the second straight season Mother Nature has issued devastating challenges to the sea turtles with TS Debby in 2012 following on the heels of the deadly January cold snap in 2011. Add in the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and sea turtles have taken it on the chin three consecutive years.