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FL - Study: Most sea turtles killed by boats in Florida are hit near shore

Boaters kill a third of of endangered or threatened sea turtles found dead from Melbourne Beach to West Palm Beach. Now a new study shows the turtles mating, resting or nibbling reefs for algae within two miles of shore are most at risk of being killed by boats, especially when nearest to their key nesting spots such as the southern Space Coast.

So just easing up on the throttle within a mile or two of the beach could cut one of the main causes of sea turtle deaths significantly, the researchers said. Boat strikes account for one in three known sea turtle deaths.

"Some are literally cut in half," said Blair Witherington, vice president/director of Inwater Research Group, a nonprofit group based in Jensen Beach, and the study's coauthor. "Their kidneys and their lungs are right there below the shell."

By comparison, boats kill about one in five manatees in Florida, according to state statistics.

Inwater's findings were published online recently in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

More: Bright lights, dark sand threaten Florida's sea turtles, especially in a warming world

Sea turtles cluster near Florida nesting beaches during spring and summer months, putting them in common navigational paths during prime boating times.

In 2020 and 2021, the five southeastern Florida coastal counties the researchers focused on (Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach) hosted more than 74 % of loggerhead green turtle, and leatherback sea turtle nesting in the continental U.S.

"The points of highest density of turtles vulnerable to boat strikes occurred within two miles of shore and off of the high-density nesting beaches of south Martin and northern Palm Beach Counties and of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge," Ryan Welsh, lead author of the study wrote in a email. "This can be easily summarized as north of Sebastian Inlet to Spessard Holland South Beach Park and between St. Lucie Inlet and West Palm Inlet."

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