Sea turtles, shorebirds dodge Irma

Turtle nest excavation
Turtle Watch volunteers excavate a sea turtle nest to count shell fragments to determine the number of hatchlings that emerged from the nest. - Cindy Lane | Sun

Sea turtles and shorebirds have survived hurricanes for centuries, and Hurricane Irma damaged, but did not decimate, Anna Maria Island’s turtle and bird populations.

“We lost stakes to 35 turtle nests, but believe eggs from half of those are still in the ground unmarked,” while the remainder washed out into the Gulf of Mexico, said Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

More than 50 adult black skimmers and many juveniles are still on the beach near the 5400 block of Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach, she said.

The birds are resting in the wrack (seaweed), she said, which the county will not rake up in that area to avoid disturbing them.

“The birds are so tired (from the storm) that they barely move or sound off as we walk up to conduct our survey count,” she said, requesting that beachgoers remain at least 75 feet from birds to avoid making them flush, which uses precious energy.

Beachgoers also need to be cautious because sea turtle nests that no longer have stakes can hatch at any time.

With 37 known nests left to hatch before turtle season ends on Oct. 31, “We’re still in the game,” she said.

Nearly 24,500 turtle hatchlings emerged from the 488 nests laid on the Island this season, according to Turtle Watch.