National Geographic : 1994 Feb
midway on Florida's populous east coast. Even this cramped shore in Boca Raton had not discouraged their drive to reproduce, and members of the local Gumbo Limbo Nature Center were trying to help them succeed. The beach was covered with wire cages, set up to protect each nest from egg-hungry raccoons and human disturbances. Volunteers patrol the beach daily, looking for signs of emergence. As we watched one nest known to be near hatching, dozens of little loggerheads erupted. In a furious flailing of tiny flippers they raced for the ocean. Some were thrown back by the first wave and lay stranded until the water reached them again. Suddenly all the turtles became water. When the next wave pulled back, they were gone. Growing to 450 pounds, Caretta caretta feeds primarily in the subtropics in estuaries and along the continental shelf, using the jaw muscles that make up most of its oversize head to crush mollusks and crustaceans. Crab and lobster fishermen curse them for mangling traps and eating their catch. Fisher men claiming lower catches of shrimp and flounder because of TEDs /li / have argued that loggerhead declines are caused mainly by loss of nesting sites to condo miniums and hotels. No scientist denies the impact of coastal development, but the turtles have put a twist on the dilemma. It seems they like high-rises. "Most residents are not there in summer when the turtles nest," explained biologist Mike Salmon of Florida Atlantic University. "At night the buildings are dark and look like a high row of trees." The higher the building, the more nests Salmon finds in front of it. "Loggerheads are becoming urban turtles." But later the location can disorient hatch lings. Street light can leak onto the beach from between buildings. If hatchlings run to the lights instead of the sea, they perish. To keep some unspoiled shore for logger heads, as well as for greens and a few leather backs that nest on Florida's east coast, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is being pieced together as funds become available. Named for the pioneering turtle researcher who died in 1987, nine miles of undeveloped land between Melbourne Beach and Vero Beach may cost as much as 90 million dollars to purchase. Research by biologist Lew Ehrhart of the University of Central Florida guided the placement of the refuge. "Loggerhead nesting has been up the past four years," he said. On a 12-mile survey site between Melbourne Beach and Sebastian Inlet he now finds more than 10,000 nests in the April to S October breeding season.