Mote Marine Laboratory is pleased to announce the establishment of a voluntary Sea Turtle Protection Zone (STPZ) in Sarasota County. Its main focus is to protect sea turtles from unintended boat strikes. The Sea Turtle Protection Zone initiative was created in 2021 through a partnership between the Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida. Mote Marine Laboratory scientists documented boat-strike hotspots in local waters and mapped the voluntary Sea Turtle Protection Zone for this area. The zone stretches from Longboat Key to Siesta Key, including Sarasota Bay, and extends from shore to 1.5 miles offshore.
“We’re excited to partner with the community to help protect sea turtles in the areas where we see the most animals struck by boats,” said Gretchen Lovewell, Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program Manager. “By closely monitoring for changes in stranding numbers and boater speeds, we hope to expand the zone and our monitoring efforts to all hot spot areas in the county.”
Sea turtles are threatened and endangered species found year-round in southwest Florida waters. During nesting season, sea turtles spend more time closer to the surface and close to their nesting beaches. With more turtles near the surface, there’s a greater chance that a boat might strike one by mistake. Many of the grass flats in the area are prime foraging grounds for sea turtles, which also puts them at risk for boat strikes. The good news is, boaters can protect sea turtles by slowing down and using vigilance in key locations.
“Since the 1980s, sea turtle vessel strikes have tripled in Florida and unfortunately more than 90% of sea turtles with definitive boat strike injuries have resulted in fatalities,” said Valerie Nicole Tovar, Conservation Manager at Loggerhead Marinelife Center. “Our goal with the STPZ is to increase boater awareness and enlist boater voluntary compliance to decrease sea turtle injuries and deaths by creating a united front with our local boating communities. The STPZ has served as a vital tool for sea turtle conservation in Palm Beach County and will continue to do so in Sarasota.”
The project is funded by the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research with funds from Disney Conservation Fund and in part by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded by proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate.