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Study: Less beach debris equals more sea turtle nests

Most of Florida's sea turtle species are either endangered or threatened.

By Brooks Hays
Study: Less beach debris equals more sea turtle nests
New research proves the presence of debris on the beach affects the nesting behaviors of Florida sea turtles. Photo by David Evison/Shutterstock

GAINESVILLE, Fla., May 17 (UPI) -- Every year, biologists, conservationists, citizen scientists and volunteers take to Florida beaches to clean up the shoreline in anticipation of the arrival of nesting sea turtles. A new study confirms the value of these cleanups.

That nesting sea turtles prefer a beach free of debris is no longer just conventional wisdom -- it's science.

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Researchers at the University of Florida tracked nesting sites along stretches of cleared beach and stretches where flotsam and jetsam remained. In some locations, the clearing of debris was credited with a 200 percent spike in sea turtle nests. Leaving debris in place curtailed nesting rates by an average of 50 percent.

As part of their research, scientists collected nesting data from several miles of beach along the Gulf Coast near Eglin Air Force Base on the Florida Panhandle. Researchers conducted their experiment, removing debris and tallying nests, every spring and summer from 2011 to 2014.

Debris on the beaches consisted of both natural and man-made items -- a combination of logs, tree stumps and metal scraps from abandoned military equipment.

The results, published this week in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, prove sea turtles are more likely to nest on beaches that have been cleared of obstacles.

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"Our results showed that the presence of large debris on a sandy beach could alter the distribution of sea turtle nests by influencing turtle nest site selection," lead study author Ikuko Fujisaki, an assistant research professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at Florida, said in a news release.

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