Loggerhead sea turtles dug their fewest nests in two decades on Florida beaches this year, their ninth straight year of decline, initial tallies show.
That is making some scientists worry about the long-term survival of Florida's best-known sea turtle and one of its top ecotourism attractions. Brevard's beaches are the largest nesting site in the Western Hemisphere for loggerheads. Thousands of people are drawn to the Space Coast annually to go on "turtle walks."
During this nesting season, which officially ended Wednesday, loggerheads have burrowed just 28,500 nests along 28 "index" beaches that biologists consider the best gauge of statewide nesting trends. Numbers still are coming in, but biologists say that's a 27 percent drop since 1989 and may be the lowest number of nests in 19 years of counting on those beaches, which include the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.
Archie Carr echoed the trend: 6,405 nests, a third fewer than what biologists counted there in the 1980s.
"That's essentially the lowest year we've ever had," said Llew Ehrhart, a marine turtle biologist with Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute.
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