Species #56: Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Location: Off the coast of Islamorada (Monroe County, Florida)
Date: 27 December 2017
Species #57: Florida chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia chrysea)
Location: Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve (Collier County, Florida)
Date: 28 December 2017
Post by George L. Heinrich
It was the last trip of The Big Turtle Year (TBTY) and my good friend and TBTY partner, Bob Krause, flew in from Chicago to join the search for two species, a hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and a Florida chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia chrysea). We only planned a four-day trip to cover both fieldwork and travel, so we had our work cut out for us.
Hawksbill sea turtles have a more limited range than other marine turtles in Florida and Dr. Larry Wood (www.floridahawksbills.com) kindly recommended visiting a reef off of the coast of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Jim Barzyk (another TBTY partner), Harrison Barzyk, and Ken Hoops joined us for the day. We rented a boat and headed out to what looked like a good location to snorkel. The water was cold and a bit rough during my first period snorkeling, and I did not see any turtles. To make matters worse, Harrison reported seeing an adult hawksbill and two loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). To count for TBTY, I personally needed to see the hawksbill. We boated over to a second location and I dropped into the clear water by a large reef with diverse coral and abundant fish of many colors, including barracuda, and a stingray. After snorkeling and enjoying the wildlife for what seemed like an hour, a subadult hawksbill appeared below me. I followed it for several minutes as it gracefully swam along using only its front flippers, both of which were tagged. That was it, species #56 for TBTY and the last of the five marine species that we needed. I was thrilled as it was also another lifer species for me.
I’m afraid that our search for a Florida chicken turtle was more difficult. We had searched in four states for this species throughout the year, so I didn’t expect it to be any easier in south Florida. Bob Krause and I searched the main entrance road at Everglades National Park for roughly 38 miles to Flamingo for two nights in a row and found 6 dead Florida green water snakes (Nerodia cyclopion floridana), 1 alive and 2 dead Florida water snakes (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris), and 2 dead southern black racers (Coluber constrictor priapus), as well as a live American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), the latter in Flamingo. We also searched Loop Road in Big Cypress National Preserve which only netted sightings of several American alligators (Alligator mississipiensis), a species of abundance along the roads in south Florida. I had heard that you could see chicken turtles along Janes Scenic Drive in Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve (Collier County, Florida), so that was our next stop. As we slowly drove down the main road, I spotted a basking turtle off to the side. Sure enough, we finally had our chicken turtle… species #57 and the last species of TBTY.