Green sea turtles thrive while other unique species struggle to survive


Green turtles, once nearly extinct, have made a suprising comeback.

Senior Life photo

Local nesting green sea turtles, expected in the 1970s to become extinct, are thriving. A record 15,785 nests were recorded statewide last summer.

“The Green sea turtle comeback is one of the most important species recoveries in the history of wildlife conservation,” Dr. Llewellyn Ehrhart, a Brevard biologist, told nearly 50 members of the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Indialantic last month. He said Seminoles and early colonists fed on green turtles and nearly obliterated them.

Historical counts were non-existent until the early to mid-1950s because heat and mosquitoes prevented summer studies, when marine turtles nest.

“This neglect of sea turtle science and conservation continued well into the third quarter of the 1900s,” Ehrhart said.

In the 1970s and 1980s, local conservationists and college students counted “a handful” of greens. In 1989, the first consistent nesting counts on 27 core beaches, including the Archie Carr National Wildlife Preserve in Brevard and Indian River counties began through the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, recording fewer than 300 throughout Florida. In 1994, there were 1,000; in 2000, 2,000; and in 2010, 4,000. “Green turtle nests have increased 80-fold since standardized nest counts began,” the web site of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reports. In 2016, Green turtles were upgraded from endangered to threatened.

But Ehrhart, who has led local species counts for five decades, also warned that while local sea turtles thrive, the area has lost unique species such as the Indigo snake, spotted skunk, round-tailed muskrat, East Wood rat and Florida beach mouse.

“We teach our kids to be biased against what we see as vermin and pests,” Ehrhart said. An ever-increasing number of beach feral cats has contributed.

Not only small mammals and snakes, but also the variety of migratory and song birds and raptors in the 900-acre Archie Carr refuge has shrunk, he said.

“The number of these small species that were a natural, normal part of our species diversity are disappearing.”

He encouraged residents to preserve habitats for all native animals.

“Individuals, organizations, agencies and governments worked together to protect turtles and we need to continue conservation practices,” Ehrhart said.