Grant: 19-025C
Project Title: Utility Vehicle for Beach Monitoring on a Florida Index Nesting Beach
Project Manager: Kelly Sloan
Organization: Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (Non-Profit Organization)
Grant Amount: $9,012.50
Completion Date: 2020-02-03

Summary: In recent years the East End of Sanibel Island has seen a dramatic increase in loggerhead nesting, with the average annual nest count tripling since 2013. Unfortunately, a corresponding increase in nest depredation was also documented after coyotes first colonized the island in 2011. When the depredation rate reached its climax in 2014 we modified our nest protection protocol to include verifying and screening nests, which has been a highly effective management technique but results in a more demanding survey due to the additional effort and supplies needed. Although it has been possible to complete this survey on foot in the past, a Utility Vehicle (UTV) is now needed to safely and efficiently conduct nesting surveys given the challenges associated with increased nesting and management. The East End of Sanibel is designated as an Index Nesting Beach by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and contributes nesting data for trend assessment at a statewide and federal level. The proposed vehicle would allow spatial and temporal continuity in a standardized, long-term INBS dataset and ensure accurate, effective, and safe monitoring efforts.

Results: The SCCF Sea Turtle Program celebrated a number of milestones this year. It was a banner nesting season, more hatchlings reached the sea than ever before, volunteers reported a record number of hours, and our research impact continues to expand. We finished with 849 total nests (817 loggerheads and 32 green turtles), second only to the 2017 season total of 872 nests (838 loggerheads and 34 greens). This nesting season we also documented a record number of hatchlings reaching the sea 48,442! The coyote depredation rate for the 2019 season was 5.2% (44 of 849 nests). Out of the total 44 coyote depredation events, 38 (86.4%) occurred on unscreened nests. This management technique is very effective on our beaches. Having the STC funded UTV contributed to our overall efficiency and ability to screen ~85% percent of the nests laid this summer. These data can be used at a local level to inform management decisions and can also be used collectively with statewide nesting data for analyses at a population level.