Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Updates – April 2012

FWC promotes boating access with new database

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) introduced a new feature on its website this week. Users can now view and search a database of Florida boat ramps.

“Providing safe, convenient access to Florida’s waterways is one of our goals,” said Pat Harrell, the FWC’s Boating Access Coordinator. “This database is designed to help keep boaters informed about facilities that are currently available.”

Boaters can visit the Public Boat Ramp Finder site to locate and obtain details for more than 1,600 publicly accessible boat ramps.

“People can look for boat ramps within a certain county, on a lake they’d like to visit or even search for boat ramps near a specific street address or GPS coordinates,” Harrell said. “The database provides a map, details and often photos of the ramps.”

The database was created from an inventory conducted for the Statewide Boating Access Inventory and Economic Assessment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided funding through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration’s Boating Access Program. Working with boating access management partners, including Florida’s counties and the Department of Environmental Protection, the FWC identified and indexed approximately 3,440 boat ramps around the state.

To access the database, visit MyFWC. com/Boating. To help the FWC improve and update this database, the public is asked to email BoatRamps@MyFWC.com to report errors or new information.

Beachgoers can help biologists monitor spawning horseshoe crabs

Beachgoers can help biologists monitor spawning horseshoe crabs As spring arrives, horseshoe crabs converge along sandy beaches throughout the state to mate. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are asking the public for help pinpointing the sites where these horseshoe crabs spawn.

Beachgoers are likely to have the best luck spotting mating horseshoe crabs around high tide, just before, during or after a full or new moon. The conditions around the full moon on April 6 will create ideal opportunities to view the spawning behavior of horseshoe crabs.

The FWC asks people to report sightings through one of several convenient options. Go to MyFWC.com/Contact and click on the “Submit a Horseshoe Crab Survey” link, then “Florida Horseshoe Crab Spawning Beach Survey.” You can also email findings to horseshoe@MyFWC.com or call the FWC at 866- 252-9326.

Observers should note the number of horseshoe crabs they see and whether those horseshoe crabs are mating. Mating crabs “pair up,” with the smaller male on top of the larger female. Other male crabs may be present around the couple. If possible, the observer should specify roughly how many horseshoe crabs are mating adults and how many are juveniles (4 inches wide or smaller).

Biologists also want to know the date, time, location, habitat type and environmental conditions – such as tides and moon phase – when a sighting occurs.

Through December 2011, the FWC has received 2,350 reports since the survey program began in April 2002.

Horseshoe crabs, often called “living fossils,” have been around for approximately 450 million years and are an important part of a marine ecosystem. Their eggs are a vital food source for animals and birds, such as the red knot.

Horseshoe crabs are important to humans as well. In the biomedical industry, horseshoe crab blood helps save human lives. Pharmaceutical companies use horseshoe crab blood to make sure that intravenous drugs and vaccine injections are bacteria-free. Also, research into horseshoe crab eyes has given scientists a greater knowledge of the functioning of human eyes.

Sea turtles laying eggs on Florida Beaches

Florida’s sea turtle nesting season started this month and continues through October. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is asking beachgoers to be careful and watch out for sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. Leatherback turtle nests already have been documented this year on beaches in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties.

“Please respect Florida’s sea turtles by leaving them alone and staying at a distance when you spot them moving across the sand or laying eggs,” said Robbin Trindell, who is responsible for sea turtle management at the FWC. “Sea turtles are resilient species, having been on earth for millions of years, but the turtles and their eggs and hatchlings are especially vulnerable whenever they appear on our beaches.”

Once a female sea turtle digs a nest on the beach with her rear flippers, she deposits about 100 eggs the size of pingpong balls. Then she covers up the nest with sand. Females often appear to weep as they nest, but the purpose of those tears is to remove salt from the turtle’s body.

Last year was an exceptional nesting year for sea turtles in Florida, with a record count for green turtle nests, and the number of leatherback turtle nests almost matching the record.

Another important step that people can take to help sea turtle nesting is turning off or shielding outdoor lights that face the ocean. Sea turtle hatchlings may confuse artificial nighttime lighting on homes and businesses with the sparkle of seawater, and head in the wrong direction when leaving their nests. If confused turtle hatchlings end up heading inland instead of toward their watery habitat, they often die from dehydration, getting run over, or being preyed upon by raccoons, ghost crabs and fire ants.

Sea turtle eggs typically incubate for 45 to 60 days, and the hatchlings will emerge on Florida beaches through November.

Three sea turtle species, the loggerhead, green turtle and leatherback, nest regularly on Florida’s beaches. Two other species, the hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley, nest infrequently on the state’s shoreline. All five species are federally listed as either threatened or endangered.

You can report someone disturbing a sea turtle nest, or report a sea turtle that is being harassed, injured or dead by calling FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone. Or you can text Tip@MyFWC.com.

For more information on sea turtles, go to MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.

Sea turtle conservation is supported by the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” license tag available at www.buyaplate.com.