JUPITER ISLAND, Fla. — Residents of tony Jupiter Island apparently aren't the only ones who appreciate their renourished beach. The widened beaches are drawing massive numbers of nesting turtles.
As of Friday, 6,440 endangered loggerhead turtles had made nests along the 6.6-mile island stretch. That's 70 percent more loggerheads than the entire nesting season in 2011. This season, which started March 1, still has three months to go.
"They've just exploded," said biologist Peter Quincy of Gahagan & Bryant Associates. Quincy counts nest for the town of Jupiter Island. "All of us are surprised."
Jupiter Island has always been a hot spot for nesting sea turtles.
"They prefer beaches that are not artificially lit," said Blair Witherington, a research biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Without condos or commercial businesses along the oceanfront, Jupiter Island's beaches are especially dark.
But much of those beaches had eroded until early this year, when the town renourished a five-mile stretch.
"Last summer, stretches of beach had no sand at all," Quincy said. "Now they have 60- to 70-foot-wide beaches. That's obviously helped."
While Jupiter Island's surge was especially dramatic, the rest of the Treasure Coast also is experiencing an increase in loggerhead nests.
Of the three species that nest locally, loggerheads have always had the most nests. Green turtle nests are down this year, although biologists aren't concerned. This smaller species typically cycles between high and low years.
"We've seen good numbers by all species this year," said Eric Martin, vice president and scientific director for Ecological Associates in Jensen Beach. "It's very encouraging."
Martin monitors turtle nests on South Hutchinson, from Normandy Beach south to the St. Lucie Inlet, and in the St. Lucie Inlet State Park and adjoining Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge on Jupiter Island.
Nobody knows just why more turtles are laying their eggs on local beaches this year. Local biologists like to think efforts to protect the beloved turtles are beginning to pay off.
"It's possibly an increase in population due to conservation measures," Martin said.
Those measures include marking nests to discourage beachgoers from disturbing them and publicizing the importance of keeping beaches dark at night. Artificial lights confuse young hatchlings who naturally are drawn to the ocean by the light of the moon.
Another factor that might have encouraged early nesting, Martin said, was warm water from the mild winter.
To protect sea turtles, he suggests beachgoers leave no obstacles on the beach, such as chairs and tents, and avoid using flashlights.
"If you see a turtle, stop, allow it to crawl up the dune, then pass," he said. "Make yourself invisible to the turtle."
TURTLE NESTING NUMBERS
Here is a look at turtle nesting numbers this year compared to last year.
Turtle season starts March 1.
Loggerhead (LH) Green(G) Leatherback (LB)
South Hutchinson Island, Normandy Beach north to Fort Pierce Inlet: 3,037(LH) 100(G) 129 (LB)
South Hutchinson Island, Normandy Beach south to St. Lucie Inlet: 3,693(LH) 114(G) 236(LB)
Jupiter Island: 6,440(LH) 394(G) 296(LB)
St. Lucie Inlet State Park and Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge: 1,189(LH) 154(G) 140(LB)
Indian River County: 6,231(LH) 430(G) 64(LB)
Same time period 2011*
South Hutchinson Island, Normandy Beach north to Fort Pierce Inlet: 3,016(LH) 150(G) 131(LB)
South Hutchinson Island, Normandy Beach south to St. Lucie Inlet: 3,191(LH) 173(G) 375(LB)
Jupiter Island: 3,919(LH) 1,266(G) 266(LB)
St. Lucie Inlet State Park and Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge: 1,725(LH) 441(G) 118(LB)
Indian River County: 4,124(LH) 545(G) 61(LB)
* Jupiter Island's numbers are for the entire 2011 season