Florida's east coast from Tequesta to North Palm Beach is home to some of the country's most densely-populated sea turtle nesting beaches and one organization is taking conservation efforts to the next level.
This year, Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research (ACCSTR) at the University of Florida will implement a Voluntary Speed Reduction Zone initiative to help reduce sea turtle boat-strike injuries.
"A voluntary speed reduction in this vital sea turtle habitat will help increase awareness of sea turtle conservation and could potentially lead to a significant decrease in motorboat and sea turtle interactions," said Tommy Cutt, LMC's chief conservation officer.
The three-year project, funded by ACCSTR, will cover offshore waterways from the Jupiter Inlet to the Lake Worth Inlet during sea turtle nesting season in Palm Beach County, which runs March 1 to Oct. 31.
"Our team will work with local commercial and recreational partners to develop a volunteer speed that won't negatively impact their business and helps keep local wildlife safe,” said Cutt.
During nesting season, female sea turtles spend additional time near the ocean's surface, which puts them at a higher risk of being struck by a boat propeller or hull.
For the first year of the project, LMC will use a long-range, laser speed detection system and binoculars to gather data from three predetermined collection points at three different times every day.
Over the following two years, LMC will use the data and work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and ACCSTR to establish a safe speed and location for the zone to help reduce the amount of boat strikes.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center will implement outreach, marketing and education efforts while continuing to collect data.
The public is reminded to keep their hands off hatchlings during nesting season and to turn out lights to prevent females or hatchlings from getting confused and going towards the lights on land.