GAINESVILLE --- Nesting sea turtles may do more than hatch future generations of loggerheads -- they also may be ensuring the future of the nation's fragile coastline, new research at the University of Florida shows.
The results of the research shows eggs laid by threatened loggerheads along Melbourne Beach hold essential nutrients that may strengthen vegetation along the shore and could be preserving the dune system.
Sarah Bouchard, a UF student who studied the nesting turtles for her master's thesis, monitored the beach for energy, nitrogen, phosphorus and lipids left behind by turtle eggs and the possible effects those nutrients had on the beach ecosystem.
Karen Bjorndal, a UF zoology professor and director of the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research, said nesting beaches typically are nutrient poor because sandy soils don't retain nutrients and salt spray can limit vegetation growth.
Sea turtles nest along the East Coast of the United States from Florida up into the Carolinas, Bouchard said. She said Melbourne Beach has one of the largest loggerhead nesting colonies in the world and the densest nesting along the East Coast.
Loggerhead turtles nest at Melbourne Beach from May to August. About 50 days after the eggs are laid, a hatchling will emerge. Turtles nest on average every few years with each turtle laying several clutches, or nests. Each year, about 65,000 nests are laid along Florida's beaches. Although no statistics are available yet, Bjorndal said preliminary indications show this year's nesting season was successful.
The nests are laid by sea turtles that can feed as far as 1,500 miles away from beaches where they lay their eggs. Sea turtles swim to nesting areas and carry nutrients from feeding grounds to sandy beaches. Feeding grounds are near the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Florida Keys and other locations along the Eastern Seaboard.
Bouchard said t
Contact: Karen Bjorndal
University of Florida