In a rare mishap, a disoriented 400-pound female loggerhead sea turtle was fatally struck by vehicles Wednesday morning on State Road A1A in unincorporated Indialantic, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
The mortally wounded loggerhead was reported about 5:30 a.m. just south of Paradise Beach, said Erin Seney, assistant research scientist with the University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group.
“In the case of this turtle, there were very clear signs on the beach that she had emerged from the ocean and tried several times to dig a nest,” Seney said.
“And as she moved along the beach, trying to find a spot where she could dig a nest to lay her eggs, she ended up going up over the dune where there was a ramp or pathway,” she said.
“Unfortunately, she went up off the beach, wandered across a couple of yards, and ended up out in the road,” she said.
Seney, who has 20 years of experience, said she did not know of a similar crash occurring in Brevard County.
Since the Brevard Zoo Sea Turtle Healing Center opened in 2014, no turtles have been admitted after getting struck by a vehicle, said Shanon Gann, program manager.
The dead reptile was transported to the zoo after the crash. Sea Turtle Healing Center Coordinator Jess Patterson estimated the turtle weighed about 400 pounds, and she was struck by multiple vehicles.
“For how big she was, she could be 50 to 60 years old. The chances of her surviving this long are very slim,” Patterson said.
For comparison’s sake, Perseverance, a 370-pound loggerhead sea turtle — the largest ever rehabilitated at Brevard Zoo — was released to the sea in October at Lori Wilson Park in Cocoa Beach.
“This is an old soul. This is a very big sea turtle,” Gann said of the loggerhead that was fatally struck on S.R. A1A.
“We’re in a big sea turtle-loving community. And this is a tragedy,” Gann said.
The loggerhead sea turtle is a threatened species that is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.
Seney said outdoor lighting along the nearby shore could be a factor in Wednesday’s incident, but no determination has been made. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials are investigating, and there is no evidence that anyone removed the turtle from the beach, spokesperson Michelle Kerr said.
“Staff are working with local partners to understand why this may have occurred and how it can be prevented from repeating over the remainder of the nesting season,” Kerr said via email.
The loggerhead had been tagged by UCF researchers in 2014 in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which extends roughly 20 miles between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso Beach.
Since her 2014 tagging, Seney said the loggerhead suffered wounds to her rear flippers — perhaps from predators, a boat strike or entanglement.
“She would have a difficult time digging what we call a body pit, and then ultimately egg chambers. This turtle was at a disadvantage to start with, and was having difficulty nesting,” Seney said.
“And in that wandering, as she continued to attempt to find a place where she could dig, she ended up going the wrong direction,” she said.
UCF sea turtle personnel were able to retrieve about 70 eggs, which were reburied in a new nest chamber on the beach. Seney said this nest will be monitored for the next 45 to 55 days to see how many hatchlings emerge.
“The hope is that maybe we can pass on her legacy,” Patterson said.