Sunday, August 31, 2008

Black Skimmers on the Move, Florida Coastal Cleanup

Several weeks ago, the roof of a hotel in Cocoa Beach served as a nesting place and rookery for some Black Skimmers. Margie Mitchell reports "the skimmer parents and babies have finally checked out of the hotel and relocated to the beach. The fledglings are still begging fish from the parents. It's very entertaining to watch the adult birds come back from hunting with little fish for the youngsters. " I got a giggle from the photo - like a lot of families with several children, everybody is facing the same direction except for one little guy. There's one in every family. (Photo by Margie Mitchell - click to enlarge)

Mark your calendars now for the big Florida Coastal Cleanup scheduled for September 20, 8 a.m. to noon. Keep Brevard Beautiful notes that this cleanup differs from the smaller ones conducted throughout the year, in that all the trash collected is cataloged to help determine where it came from. Nice story in Florida Today newspaper at Contact Jim Kriewaldt, Spoil Island and Invasive Plant Program Manager
(321) 631-0501 x 206 for more information.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's a Small World for Turtle Folks

The nephew of the Meihofers in Melbourne Beach wrote to report the following adventure he had in New York: (click on the photos to enlarge)

"I took the boat out to Montauk yesterday to do a little fluke fishing. I was fishing in the ocean about 5 miles west of the lighthouse in about 60 feet of water. I saw a large dark head pop out of the water. It was the size of a human head. It turned out to be several very large sea turtles actively feeding on an abundance of jellyfish I saw while I was fishing. There were both Lion’s mane and moon jellyfish all over the place. I am not sure which they were eating but they were hanging around the same spot popping their heads up and occasionally thrashing around at the surface. When they came up for air it sounded like a dolphin breathing. I have never seen this type of sea turtle before. I thought they were Loggerheads but I found some info online and I matched them to be Leatherbacks. I would guess they were 5 to 6 feet long. I saw 3 or 4 in that one spot but then I saw another one just off the point. I took the pictures attached. I was drifting and one turtle swam right for me and dove right under the back of the boat. It was really a thrill to see these beautiful animals doing their thing in the beautiful clear ocean water off Montauk. I hope they will pay you a visit when they nest."

We thank Greg for sharing the photos, the Meihofers for sharing the photos and the writeup with Donna Braunlich of the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, and Donna for sending everything to me. Just goes to show - it's a small world for turtle folks!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Land Crabs, Beach Water Quality, and Kudos to Florida Today

Sunday's post talked about Land Crabs, and serendipitously, Jim showed up with some great photographs of the critters that he took over the weekend. They are such handsome creatures. Apparently, the terms Giant Land Crabs, Blue Land Crabs, and Great Land Crabs are synonomous. Dawn Witherington tells me that "The females and juveniles are purplish like in the image you have and the males are larger and more blue. The image you have is most likely a female since the juveniles are smaller and would not be on the beach. The females migrate to the beach to release their eggs and the males head to the beach for an opportunity to mate. Unfortunately there are hundreds that are squished on the road around here. " Dawn goes on to mention that after hurricane Jeanne, there were also hundreds of land crabs fleeing from their saturated burrows, so we can perhaps at least speculate that the current migration has been spurred by Tropical Storm Fay's deluge.

Be advised that while there are some that find them a tasty treat, per state regulations, removal of the crabs is limited to an open season from November 1 of each year through June 30 of the following year. No crabs can be removed during the closed season beginning on July 1 and continuing through October 31 of each year. By law, the land crabs can only be caught by hand or with the use of a landing or dip net. (I'm going to assume that removal means catching and eating, not relocating them out of your swimming pool.)

Good news for Brevard County beaches. Following Tropical Storm Fay, there was the usual concern about post-storm ocean water quality. Per Florida Today, "Routine weekly bacteriological testing conducted Monday confirms that the water quality in the area is good at monitored coastal beaches.These monitored beaches are all on the Atlantic Coast and do not represent the Indian River Lagoon.Bacteriological survey results are posted on our internet website at "

An editorial comment - Florida Today did a fine job of keeping us all informed during Tropical Storm Fay. Keeping in mind that the newspaper's employees are folks with homes and families also, both the print and on-line versions of the newspaper were informative, up-to-date, and somehow comforting. Not only that, in spite of rain and flooded roads, the print versions showed up on every doorstep the delivery people could get to. Job well done!

(Photo by Jim Angy - click to enlarge)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Great Land Crabs

Wayne reports the following from a trip along A1A to Vero Beach today. Hundreds of Great Land Crabs were crossing A1A, apparently the females trying to get from their burrows on the muddy shores of the Indian River Lagoon to the ocean, where they deposit their eggs. According to a sign along the nature trail at the Barrier Island Center (BIC), their migration to the ocean occurs during full moon nights. Found some web sites that stated their major migration occurs just prior to a full moon and a minor migration just prior to a new moon. Last night the moon was in its last quarter, about seven days prior to a new moon. Maybe last night was the first clear, moonlit night in a long while. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Matchett - click on it to enlarge)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Rescued Hatchlings Update

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fay, Ann Zscheile reports that yesterday, she and Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) colleague Nancy Yates met and counted all the little hatchlings to be transported to the Marine Science Center (MSC) at Ponce Inlet. After collecting 47 more turtles from Adrienne in Cape Canaveral, Dori Hughes and Ann headed north with 407 loggerhead hatchlings and 3 green turtle hatchlings. Unfortunately 38 of the hatchlings didn't survive the 2-3 days in the office.

Nancy Yates has had a busy week - she is the STPS permit holder for strandings and has been coordinating the rescue team all week, answering numerous pages all day and into the night. Meanwhile, Dave Hochberg covered the calls coming into the office.
This highlights the need in Brevard County for some sort of turtle hospital - as Ann says:

"Brevard Co has approximately 40% of loggerhead nesting for the
whole state and accounts for a large number of strandings for the
state. It would seem that this area would be a logical place to
have a sea turtle triage/emergency room/rescue center. Transporting turtles is costly and is not always in the best interest of the turtles whose needs may be urgent."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rescued Hatchlings

While most of us were safe and dry in our homes, watching the Tropical Storm Fay weather reports on TV, dedicated folks from the Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) were out rescuing hatchlings that had been washed ashore by the rough surf. Earlier, I referred to these as washbacks, but Ann Zscheile tells me that strictly speaking, washbacks are post-hatchlings that have reached the sargassum and get washed back with the seaweed that washes ashore during a storm. These rescued turtles were new hatchlings that managed to get into the ocean, but didn't get very far before the storm hit and washed them back to shore and up north to Cape Canaveral. The majority that were picked up were near the Jetty in Cape Canaveral.

After an event like this, the little hatchlings are just too exhausted to swim, so it serves no purpose to just immediately return them to the ocean. The rescued hatchlings are being kept in plastic wading pools until volunteers can get them to the Marine Science Center (MSC) in Ponce Inlet (Fay has moved up the coast, so the Volusia County MSC is getting hit today). After a few days at the rehab center, the hatchlings will be taken by boat about 40 miles out in the ocean, to the Sargasso weed line, which is where they will live and grow for several years.

When I spoke with Ann this morning, there were approximately 400 hatchlings skittering around in the plastic pools, making considerable racket! With this bad weather showing no signs of leaving, I'm sure the number will increase. Nearly all of the rescued hatchlings were loggerheads, but the photo below is of a green turtle hatchling. (You can see the difference between the green and loggerhead hatchlings in the second photo.)

The STPS recently initiated a Sea Turtle Emergency Response Program to increase the number of young turtles rescued, rehabilitated, and released. Ann reports that the new volunteers were not involved in this event, as the STPS has not received the official letters of authorization from the State that will allow the volunteers to search for and rescue post-hatchling sea turtles. The rescue efforts in Cape Canaveral were mostly done by coordinating efforts through Adrienne Kessler, an STPS volunteer named on the stranding permit. (You last saw Adrienne in an earlier post, standing in a hole.)

By the way - the good folks at STPS could use old towels. If you have any, drop them off at the STPS office (call 676-1701 for hours and directions).

(Photos by Shannon Angy - be sure to click on the pix to enlarge.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's Raining Catfish!

Tropical Storm Fay is really something - 20 inches of rain reported over the past two days, and flooding has turned into a major concern. We worry about the effects on the area's critters, of course. When I get reports from our intrepid beach reporters, I'll certainly post them right away.

Meanwhile, taking time off from building his ark, our friend Ed Perry sent us these photos of a walking catfish visiting his neighborhood. Here is Ed's description of the event:

This is a walking catfish; exotic in Florida (not supposed to be here). They have been walking/swimming up and down my street the last two days. I am flooded-in today; was expected to go to work, but cannot get through the roads, had to turn around and come back home--couldn't even go a mile and now that is even under water.

Walking catfish move around from pond to pond, ditch to ditch when it is wet and rainy. They can live out of the water quite a while and use this advantage to expand their population areas.

Here's a link to a video that Ed took of this critter.

(Photo courtesy of Ed Perry - knowing Ed, he was holding the camera with one hand and the catfish with the other.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tropical Storm Fay's Impact on Sea Turtles

Interesting and reassuring news from the Caribbean Conservation Corporation folks today regarding the impact of storms on sea turtles.
After being released on August 1st from the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne, Lumiere, a loggerhead sea turtle, began heading south along Florida's east coast. Having traveled about 282 km, or 175 mi, she is now close to the Florida Keys in the middle of the storm. Millana, a leatherback sea turtle, was fitted with a satellite transmitter on the Caribbean coast of Panama in late June. Since the start of the marathon, she has traveled north 201 km, or 125 mi, into the Gulf of Mexico, just off Florida's west coast, in search of her favorite meal, jellyfish. "Although active sea turtles swim to the ocean's surface every few minutes to breathe," said David Godfrey, executive director of Caribbean Conservation Corporation, "we expect that these wise mariners will weather the storm safely." Sea turtle scientists speculate that inactive sea turtles can stay underwater for at least two hours without surfacing for air. This ability can prove to be invaluable during bad weather, helping to safeguard sea turtles from the worst of any storm. While sea turtles face many threats to their survival, they have lived for millions of years, dealing with tropical storms and hurricanes for much longer than humans. Their continued survival is a great indication that Lumiere and Millana will carry on their marathon migrations uninterrupted. It will be interesting to see if Tropical Storm Fay will slow their travels, at least for a couple of days. To track the turtles in the path of the storm, visit

Our Belle o' Brevard followed a more typical Floridian route and headed north for the rest of the summer! She is now in third place, somewhere around Charleston, SC.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Effects of Artificial Lighting on Sea Turtle Hatchlings

Most sea turtles hatch at night. The baby turtles make their way to the ocean, attracted by the ocean waves and moonlight on the water. Since the hatchlings are attracted by bright lights, it is important that beach businesses and residents use specially designed lighting that does not confuse the turtles.

On a recent early morning beach walk, Jim captured some terrific photos of hatchling tracks that show how confusing life is to these little critters when artificial lighting interferes with their trip to the ocean. In this first photo, apparently there was visible artificial lighting nearby. You can just imagine the hatchlings emerging from their nest at night and trying to figure out how to get to the ocean based on a light source. Is it this way? No, it's this way. No, let's go this way! Poor babies!

In this photo, the last guy out of the nest had an easier time of it - it was early morning, daylight, and Jim says the hatchling headed for the ocean as fast as his little flippers would carry him.

If you have windows overlooking the beach, please be sure to pull your drapes at night. And of course, use the proper shielded fixtures for any exterior lights around your home or business. If you have any questions about the correct lighting, call Paula Berntson at the Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office, 321-633-2016, ext 52431 or email her at

(Photos by Jim Angy)

This story just in on Yahoo! about hatchlings wandering into an Italian restaurant!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hatchlings Emerge

You don't often get to see pictures of hatchlings digging their way out of the nest, but our friend Margie sent us these great photos, along with a description of the event. Be sure to click on the pictures to enlarge them, then scroll around, as the hatchlings are still covered with sand and hard to pick out.

Margie describes it thusly: "A daylight emergence in South Cocoa Beach. Fascinating to watch them erupt from the nest and run for the ocean. The birds grabbed a couple, but it was interesting to see that most of them freed themselves from ghost crabs that caught them. One even got away after being dragged down into a ghost crab burrow and crawled back out."

(Photos courtesy of Margie Mitchell)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tour de Turtles Update and Slideshow

After a slow start, our Belle o' Brevard entry in the Tour de Turtles is moving briskly - the last I heard, she was in second place in the race. (Late breaking news - Belle is in first place, outracing even that big leatherback. Go Belle!)

Thanks to our friend and photographer Wayne Matchett, we have a slideshow of the July 31 release. The slideshow is in the righthand side of this blog, and is appropriately titled Tour de Turtles. Just click on it, then select View Album, then Slideshow from the menu bar. As always, we thank Wayne for 1) his photos and 2) showing me how to upload slideshows!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

It's Only Common Sense

This from Sea Turtle Preservation Society volunteer, Ann Zscheile.

"I am sending you a picture of my fellow surveyor, Adrienne, in a huge hole we found on Cocoa Beach. It is not the first or the largest of holes that we have found on summer surveys. After we took this picture, we filled in the hole ( with the help of a friendly beach walker) enough so that no turtles would get trapped in it.

The next day, again on a survey, we found a hole in another area of the beach - it was approximately 2 feet deep. There were three hatchlings in there from a nest that hatched that night farther up the beach. Two of the hatchlings were still alive, but one was dead. We released the live hatchlings on the beach, and they quickly completed their journey to the ocean." (Photos courtesy of Ann Zscheile - click to enlarge)

Ann gives us these pointers for digging holes in the beach:

1. Always fill in your holes before you leave the beach.
2. Don't dig holes in the beach above the tide line (during sea turtle nesting season) - you never know if you might accidently dig into a nest and destroy 100+ eggs.
3. Use only beach tools for digging on the beach and building sand castles - garden type shovels are meant for gardens and not for the beach.
4. Deep holes in the beach are dangerous for both humans and turtles.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast in Schools

We are so delighted to tell you that we recently received a grant from the Friends of the Scrub / Allen Broussard Conservancy to put a copy of Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast in every public and charter school in Brevard County. Yesterday, I delivered 75 copies to the School Board in Viera to be distributed to the Elementary schools. Middle and High schools are next. I had the Florida Beach Basics DVD reviewed against the new Sunshine State Standards for Grades 1 - 6, and hope to have the same thing done for the remaining grades. Matt will set up a For Teachers button on the website and upload the results as .pdf files soon. Hard to believe, but school will be starting soon, so teachers, if you need the Grades 1 - 6 results now, email me at, and I'll email you a copy.

We were invited to apply for the grant because of the high regard Friends of the Scrub members have for our colleague/photographer, Jim Angy. Jim has been a long-time supporter of all things environmental in Brevard County and is well-known in the county as an award winning photographer, naturalist, and public speaker. Jim's photos were the basis for our Still Nature series of digital photo album CDs, and figure prominently in our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast package.
The image at the beginning of this post is the logo of Friends of the Scrub. Here is one of Jim's scrub jay photos.

Margaret Broussard wrote some lovely words in the grant letter and has given me permission to share them: "By showing children (and adults) the beauty of nature here, you will surely pique their interest in the survival of our native species in the face of the dangers they face from human activities. From such interest may blossom concern, and from concern, efforts to help save their lives and future generations."
I attended yesterday's County Commissioner's meeting regarding the purchase of some north Brevard land under the Environmentally Endangered Land (EEL) Program (it passed - hooray!). Nearly 40 speakers (including Margaret Broussard) eloquently spoke in support of the purchases. There was an idea that particularly caught my attention about children growing up with a "nature deficient disorder" and a phrase that I thought really summed it up: "When nature wins, we all win."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sea Turtle Returns to the Sea

If you've never seen a sea turtle return to the ocean after (hopefully) laying its eggs on our beach, you're in for a real treat. Most nestings take place at night, so the opportunity to get good video of a daytime trek to the ocean is rare. Ann Zscheile provided us with this video of a returning loggerhead (remember - this turtle weighs about 250 pounds) - watch carefully at the end, as there's some great turtle surfing action! To get the full effect, be sure your sound is turned on. Many thanks to Ann for sharing this.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

More Turtle Talk and Beach News

According to this morning's Florida Today's story, Belle o' Brevard has not surfaced since high-tailing it out of Melbourne Beach Thursday morning, so her transmitter has not made contact with its satellite. Since it appears that she was captured Wednesday night after a false crawl (came on to the beach but did not lay eggs), we don't blame her for being a little uncooperative! The eighth (final) turtle was released yesterday in Vero Beach. Remember, you can follow the turtle paths at

The Ocean Conservancy folks were in town the other day to tag some turtles, and reported a very satisfactory trip. Wander around their website if you have a chance - lots going on, lots of information. Our ocean critters are lucky to have folks like this looking out after them.

Brevard's beaches got some good news this week - the annual Natural Resources Defense Council reported that our surf tested clean more than 1,600 times in the last 18 months, and no beaches were closed because of health fears. Again - good stuff on their website, so follow the link if you have a moment.

Working on the Belle o' Brevard release slide show, Margie Mitchell's daytime hatchling emergence, and Ann's video of a turtle returning to the ocean.