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Native Species Predation

The Problem: Sea turtles face a wide variety of threats to their survival, most of which are caused by humans. But they even have naturally occurring, or native, predators. They include raccoons, crabs, sharks, birds and coyotes. These animals, like dogs and cats, easily prey on young hatchlings after they emerge from the nest. Many times they will use their sense of smell to detect nests within hours of them being deposited in the sand. Even insects can be included in this group. Studies have shown that beetle larvae have caused tremendous damage to turtle nests. In recent years the number of raccoons, in particular, have increased along the coast because of a decrease in natural predators and availability of food. Raccoon predation is actually the single greatest cause of sea turtle mortality in Florida. What makes them especially adept to finding nests is their sense of smell and the fact that they are nocturnal, meaning the hunt for food at night, the same time turtles lay eggs and hatch. Another reason these animals are more prevalent is because people tend to feed them or leave food or garbage out and available for them.

Species Affected: All sea turtles are affected by native species predation.

The Solution: Humans can play a vital role in decreasing the threat of native species predation. The number of raccoons, especially, has been the direct result of humans settling on the coast and providing food.
  * Do not leave trash or other food out when you are at the beach;
  * Do not feed native animals. For example, it is illegal to feed raccoons in Florida;
  * Do not leave pet food out over night;
  * Educate yourself and others about this issue.

Case Study: A study of a sea turtle nesting 20 miles south of Belize City, Belize, recorded 108 hawksbill sea turtle nests. By the end of the study, all but eight of the nests had been disturbed by predators. Researchers were able to identify that most of the predators were raccoons based on the tracks around the nests. Even when fences were placed around some of the nests, the raccoons were able to dig under the fence into the nest chamber. This shows these critters, and other native species, are able to find eggs. A possible technology that scientists are looking into is chemical masking. This would deter the animals from finding the eggs because it would hide the scent.

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