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Sea turtle nests continue to rise on Florida's east coast

6:21 PM, Sep 12, 2012   |    comments
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- Diane Schleissing walks the beach bright and early. She has served on the Sea Turtle Patrol in Crescent Beach for eleven years.  

She's passionate about turtles.

"I love my turtles," she said with a laugh.

She and her team look over the sand for evidence of underground sea turtle nests.

"And when we find one, it's like, 'We got a nest!'" she said.

She's been saying that a lot this year.

The last three years, the east coast of Florida has seen an explosion in the number of sea turtle nests which are roped off for protection.

In St. Johns County alone in 2010, there was a record number of 885 nests. In 2011, there were 638 nests and so far this year, there are 675 nests, according to St. Johns County numbers.

While this year is not a record as far as numbers, the county considers the past three years a record time period. Tara Dodson with the county's Habitat Conservation Division says the last three years' numbers are up 300 percent from its average over 20 years.

"From a scientific point of view, it's a third year in a row of record date,"  Dodson said.

So why is Florida's east coast seeing so many sea turtle nests?

Experts say Florida may be seeing the effects of the regulations put in place by the Endangered Species Act from the '70s.

"We also had the oil spill a few years ago and nesting decreased on the west coast of Florida," Dodson explained. "So did some for those turtles come to our coast? We don't know."  

"I've seen ups and downs," Schleissing said.  

Schleissing is holding her breath hoping the increase in nests will continue.

"I'm not sure what's going on with the turtles," Schleissing said, "but as long as they keep coming, I'll be real happy with that!

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