ENGLEWOOD — A robust, record- breaking sea turtle nesting season is winding down on Manasota Key and other local barrier islands.
Sadly, the lingering blooms of toxic red tide algae have taken a toll on sea turtles, especially on immature Kemp’s ridley, the smallest and most critically endangered of sea turtle species.
South of Stump Pass, Brenda Bossman is the state primary permit holder who oversees the volunteer sea turtle nesting patrols on Knight and Don Pedro islands.
On Friday, Bossman said within the last five days, the sea turtle patrols collected 10 dead sea turtles that washed ashore.
“Some looked very fresh,” Bossman said.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are expected to necropsy the turtles and determine the causes of death, but Bossman suspects red tide is the culprit.
When concentrations of red tide exceed 100,000 cells per liter of water, the toxins can trigger fish kills and other marine life deaths. Sea turtles, like other marine life, can succumb to red tide toxins, researchers have determined.
The FWC reported Friday how high concentrations have been collected in water samples taken from Charlotte County’s Placida and Boca Grande fishing piers in Gasparilla Sound. Other samples, including those taken from Boca Grande Pass, turned up medium concentrations.
Crabs, which Kemp’s ridley turtles eat, have been seen in the shallows of the local barrier islands, Bossman said, feeding on fish killed by red tide. Toxins, she suggested, can infect feeding turtles. She’s also seen birds feeding on the dead fish that appear ill.
North of Stump Pass, the scent of airborne red tide toxins has subsided lately, confirmed Zoe Bass, a primary permit holder with Wilma Katz overseeing Coastal Wildlife Club volunteer sea turtle patrols on Manasota Key.
But like Bossman, Bass said stranded Kemp’s ridley and an immature green sea turtle have washed up onto Manasota Key. No signs of fresh dead fish have washed ashore in the last couple of weeks, she said.