ENGLEWOOD — The tracks in the sand told the story.
Carol Leonard, a Coastal Wildlife Club director, said a turtle patrol discovered odd tracks of an injured loggerhead turtle that dragged itself onto Manasota Key to deposit its eggs.
The turtle may have been missing one or both of her rear flippers.
She was still able to will herself out of the Gulf of Mexico and up onto the beach, where she deposited a clutch of eggs before returning to the sea. She was not able to dig a deep nest, but made an attempt to protect her eggs with a light cover of sand.
“A sea turtle with an injury to her hind flipper made an unusual track on the beach and released her eggs onto the surface without digging a nest cavity and with little evidence that she attempted to throw sand to camouflage her nesting site,” Leonard told the Daily Sun in an email.
“There is no way to know what happened to this turtle, as she had returned to the Gulf before we came upon her clutch of eggs during our morning monitoring,” Leonard said.
Loggerheads generally dig their nests 12 to 18 inches deep. The sea turtle volunteers dug a hole an “arm’s length deep” and created a chamber in which the eggs could incubate.
The sea turtle laid a small clutch of eggs, 40 to 50, partly on the surface of the sand and partly covered lightly with sand.
Wildlife Club volunteers took it upon themselves to finish what loggerhead started.
While not isolated, Leonard said, it is relatively rare for a loggerhead not to dig a nest for its eggs.
What was interesting, too, is that no sooner than the volunteers buried the eggs, a crow appeared and perched on the stake marking the nest. Crows are among the natural predators of sea turtle eggs. It may have missed an opportunity for an easy breakfast.
“We did not observe the crow scavenging any eggs, and there were no bird tracks or broken shells observed,” Leonard said.
With so many nesting turtles offshore, Leonard asks boaters “to be on the look out employing a spotter who could alert the captain of any turtle or manatee in the water. Each adult turtle is especially valuable to the population, having survived to reproductive adulthood.”
The injured loggerhead wasn’t the only sea turtle feeling the urge to nest. As of May 20, the Coastal Wildlife Club reported 425 loggerheads have nested on Manasota Key.
One Kemp’s ridley, the most endangered sea turtle species, laid a nest on Manasota Key.
Brenda Bossman is the state permit holder overseeing the volunteer sea turtle patrols on Knight and Don Pedro islands south of Stump Pass. Along a 2.5-mile stretch of Gulf beaches, Bossman reported 90 nests.
The northern portion of the shoreline, near where dredging has been underway in Stump Pass, hasn’t seen any nests yet.
In the past, Bossman said she, too, has seen odd crawls where nesting loggerheads appeared to suffer shark bites or propeller cuts or injuries resulting from other causes. Without seeing the turtles themselves, the causes of the injuries remain speculation.
North of Manasota Key, Mote Marine Laboratory oversees sea turtle volunteers 35 miles of Gulf beaches from Venice north to Longboat Key. So far, Mote reports 449 loggerhead nests with the majority of those nests on Casey Key.
Officially, the sea turtle nesting season begins May 1 and extends to Oct. 31.
All sea turtle species are endangered and enjoy federal and state protections. The public is prohibited from interfering with nesting turtles, disruption of sea turtle nests or interference with the hatches of turtles emerging from the nests.
To report someone harassing nesting turtles or disturbing a sea turtle nest, an injured or dead sea turtle call Wildlife Alert 888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922) or report it online. Cell phone users can also call FWC or #FWC, or send a text to Tip@MyFWC.com.