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South Florida beaches see record year for sea turtle nests

File photo of a leatherback turtle in the Atlantic Ocean.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Biologists were taken by surprise by a record number of leatherback turtle nests found along some South Florida beaches this year.

The 79 nests laid by endangered turtles along beaches in Broward County this year is nearly double the previous record, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported. The previous record was 46 in 2012, and the record low for leatherback nests was 12 in 2017.

“It’s difficult to say why Broward County saw such an increase in leatherback nesting this season,” Stephanie Kedzuf, a biologist for Broward County who specializes in sea turtles, told the newspaper.

Kedzuf said she will be curious to see whether other areas in the state saw a similar increase.

Leatherbacks, named for their tough, rubbery skin, typically crawl onto beaches at night and dig holes to deposit their eggs in the sand. They are among the largest of sea turtles.

The nesting season runs from March 1 to Oct. 31. During that time, coastal buildings must shield or lower their lights to prevent them from disturbing the hatchlings. When the turtles hatch, they race toward the sea to avoid crabs, birds and other predators. The lights can draw them inland, where they could be run over, or even trapped in storm drains.

The population of leatherbacks has declined by 40% worldwide, with threats including unintentional catch in fishing gear, loss of nesting habitat and pollution, the National Marine Fisheries Service said.

During the nesting season, 2,795 nests of sea turtles of all species were recorded along Broward County beaches, the newspaper reported.