Miami Beach

A sea turtle is mysteriously found dead after nesting in Miami Beach

A sea turtle nest is marked near the Cape Florida Lighthouse in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Thursday, August 4, 2016.
A sea turtle nest is marked near the Cape Florida Lighthouse in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Thursday, August 4, 2016. Miami Herald File

The sea turtle was just looking for somewhere to nest.

That’s what Miami-Dade County Sea Turtle Conservation Program surveyors said likely brought a 300-pound female loggerhead sea turtle to Miami Beach sometime Sunday night or early Monday morning, just as peak sea turtle nesting season is getting underway.

She appeared to lay a nest successfully on the beach around 10th Street and Ocean Drive, but Monday morning, a surveyor found the otherwise healthy turtle dead in the sand, her body at the water line in front of the freshly laid nest. That nest and another nearby also showed signs of being disturbed by ATV tracks and some bootprints.

What killed her is unclear, said Teal Kawana, a project manager for the county sea turtle program.

The sea turtle appeared to have only minor injuries to her shell and neck.

“It’s really hard to determine” how those injuries were sustained, Kawana said. “Those could have happened previously or they could have been on the beach. It could go either way.”

Kawana said it could not yet be determined if the tire tracks around the nests were related to the turtle’s death. Such a death, in which a female sea turtle dies on land shortly after nesting, was something she and several of her colleagues with experience “had never seen before,” she added. “It’s very rare.”

Kawana said the program immediately submitted a “stranding report” to the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which took the turtle’s carcass to be necropsied to determine the precise cause of death and is investigating the incident.

It is forbidden under Florida statute to interfere with marine turtles, nests or eggs without authorization from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for research or conservation purposes. Marine turtles are also protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, including loggerheads, which are classified as threatened.

On Facebook, the county’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program urged followers to give sea turtles space if seen on the beach and avoid shining lights that might confuse the turtles, which nest in the dark. It also urged those allowed to drive on the beach — usually emergency vehicles or beach vendors — to keep an eye out for turtles moving slowly in the sand.

Nearly 300 sea turtle nests have been laid on Miami Beach since nesting season began May 1, Kawana said. The Sea Turtle Conservation Program surveys the sands daily until the season ends on Oct. 31 to collect data on the threatened animals and help raise awareness for their cause.

Anyone who encounters a dead, ill or injured sea turtle is encouraged to call the Sea Turtle Conservation Program’s emergency number at 305-310-3046, or the state Fish and Wildlife Commission at 888-404-FWCC.