Red tide is suspected of killing at least 20 sea turtles and sickening four others during the past three weeks in the waters off Collier County.
The exact causes of death won’t be known until researchers perform necropsies on some of the dead loggerheads in November, said Maura Kraus, who runs Collier County’s sea turtle monitoring program. The spike in sea turtle deaths since Sept. 22, though, coincides with an intensifying red tide bloom.
So far, monitors have counted 71 turtle “strandings” along Collier’s shore this year. Strandings refer to dead or weakened sea turtles. Ten more have been sighted at sea that never came ashore, bringing the total to 81, Kraus said. Since 1996, the number of sea turtle strandings in Collier County has shot to more than 40 in three years, all of them since 2000, when 108 strandings were reported. The 10-year average of sea turtle strandings is about 45, according to county figures.
Kraus said 12 of the strandings since Sept. 22 have happened on city of Naples beaches. The four rescued sea turtles were carried off the beach in stretchers and transported to turtle rehabilitation facilities in Miami, Sanibel Island and Tampa. The sight and overpowering smell of dead sea turtles washing up on Collier beaches have shocked even some of the most hardened locals. “There would be one and another hundred yards later another one,” said Dave Boot, 47, a longtime boater who counted eight dead turtles along the length of Keewaydin Island on Sunday. “I was just blown away.”
Eve Haverfield, director of Turtle Time, the group that monitors Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach during turtle nesting season, has recorded 20 turtle deaths in south Lee County. Whether red tide is the main culprit is debatable, she said. “Last year, we had red tide, but we didn’t have the commensurate peak we had this year,” Haverfield said.