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Mote’s Sea Turtle Protection initiative urges boaters to ‘Go Slow for Those Below&rquo;

It's an effort to protect sea turtles, which are an endangered species found year-round in Southwest Florida waters and become especially vulnerable during nesting season.

Law enforcement agencies aren't the only ones keeping track of boaters' speed on Suncoast waterways.

Mote Marine Laboratory is also using laser speed guns to collect data on boaters' habits as part of its two-month-old Sea Turtle Protection Zone initiative.

Sea turtles are an 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 of being hit by a boat.

Mote scientists have documented boat-strike hotspots along the Suncoast and created the voluntary Sea Turtle Protection Zone, which stretches from Longboat Key to Siesta Key, including Sarasota Bay.

The zone 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. The project is also funded by the Disney Conservation Fund and money collected from the sale of the state's sea turtle license plate.

"The area extends pretty much from the 10th Street boat ramp down to the north Siesta Key Bridge," expanding about a mile offshore, said Gretchen Lovewell, stranding investigations program manager at Mote Marine Laboratory.

"It's a voluntary zone where we're asking people to just slow down and be on the lookout for sea turtles."

Mote says since the 1980s, boat collisions with sea turtles have tripled in Florida. Lovewell says this year has been particularly hard on the sea turtle population. "This year, June, July and August, were really high numbers for us. We've already had over 30 turtles ... this year that we've recovered that have been hit by boats," most of them in the new protection zone.