The state of Florida, through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, coordinates two sea turtle monitoring programs: the Statewide Nesting Beach Survey and the Index Nesting Beach Survey.
Nesting occurs in all coastal counties except those in the Big Bend area of Florida. The highest nesting densities are located along the southeast coast from Brevard to Palm Beach counties.
Statewide Nesting Beach Survey
The Statewide Nesting Beach Survey (SNBS) program was initiated in 1979 under a cooperative agreement between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Its purpose is to document the total distribution, seasonality and abundance of sea turtle nesting in Florida. Three species of sea turtles, the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), and the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), nest regularly on Florida's beaches. Two other species, the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), nest infrequently. All five species are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
View a SNBS Survey Areas Map (PDF)
Index Nesting Beach Survey
For the past 17 years, the Index Nesting Beach Survey (INBS) has coordinated a detailed monitoring program in conjunction with SNBS. This program was established to measure seasonal productivity, allowing comparisons between beaches and between years.
Of the 190 SNBS surveyed areas, 33 participate in the INBS program. The combined efforts of the SNBS and INBS programs not only allow for the management and evaluation of coastal development efforts, but also promote the recovery of marine turtles.
View a INBS survey areas map (PDF)
FWC coordinates the collection of nesting data through a network of permit holders consisting of federal, state, and local park personnel; other government agency personnel; members of conservation organizations, university researchers; and private citizens. Florida staff members coordinate data collection, provide training, and compile annual survey data for publications and data recession.
Survey data are derived from observations of tracks and other nesting signs left on beaches by sea turtles. Species identifications and determinations of nesting or non-nesting emergences are based on evaluations of features of tracks and nests (e.g., track width, track configuration, size of the body pit) as described by Pritchard et al. (Manual of Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Techniques, 1983, Second Edition, Center for Environmental Education, Washington, D.C., 108 pp.).
Data are gathered through a network of permit holders consisting of private conservation groups, volunteers, consultants, academics, local governments, federal agencies, and the Florida Park Service. Managers use the results to evaluate and minimize the effects of human activities (e.g., coastal construction, beach renourishment, and recreation) on turtles and their nests and identify important areas for enhanced protection or land acquisition.
Nesting totals from 1988-2007 are available for each county. Before 1988, the level of effort (based on the number of kilometers of beach surveyed) changed markedly each year, as new beaches were added to the program. In addition, data for 1979-1992 were published in "Sea Turtle Nesting Activity in the State of Florida 1979-1992," Florida Marine Research Publications No.52: 1-51, 1995, by A. Meylan, B. Schroeder, and A. Mosier. Copies of this publication are available from the Publications Section of this Web site.
Sea turtle nesting activity in the state of Florida 1979-1992
Funding for Florida's sea turtle monitoring programs has been provided by the Florida Game and Fish Commission's Nongame Wildlife Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program and database would not be possible without the dedication and hard work of the hundreds of permit holders and volunteers who carry out the beach surveys.
There are limitations to the use of the SNBS database imposed by the data collection methodology employed. These limitations are discussed in full in the aforementioned publication. General caveats include the following information:
Changes in survey boundaries for individual beaches and variability in survey frequency (days per week) and period (beginning and ending dates) occur in the SNBS program from year to year, making it inappropriate for assessing population trends. Population monitoring is the goal of the Index Nesting Beach Survey Program, a complementary FWC program.
Not all sea turtle nesting beaches in Florida are monitored, thus nest totals represent a minimum estimate.
In any area, evaluation of changes in the number of nests over time must take into account changes in survey effort. Survey effort is defined herein as the number of kilometers of beach that are monitored for nesting activity. However, it is an imperfect measurement because it does not factor in survey frequency and period on individual beaches; survey frequency and period are also components of effort. Beach lengths do vary with erosion and accretion, and they are not always accurately measured.
Survey efforts are targeted principally at the loggerhead turtle. Green turtles and leatherbacks have overlapping but different nesting seasons, thus they are not fully represented in the data. The total number of nests for each of these species are underestimated, and the first and last nest date of the year do not always accurately reflect their respective nesting seasons.
Determination of nesting success (i.e., whether an emergence has resulted in eggs being deposited or not) can be difficult, especially in areas where nest densities are high or in situations where weather has erased the marks that the turtle left in the sand. To protect the integrity of the nests, assessment of nesting success is made visually and is not confirmed by digging. Thus, there is opportunity for error in this determination.