Holes on the beach are no longer accidents waiting to happen.
Two children recently got trapped in a hole that they dug on the beach, Manatee County beach raker Mark Taylor said. A man jumped in, pushed them out of the hole, and got stuck himself before finally making it out.
After trying to fill in the hole, shoveling by hand, Taylor climbed up on the tractor and began using it to fill in the hole.
The tractor got stuck.
One hole he filled in was so big – deeper than the tractor is tall – that it took another tractor and a four-wheel-drive pickup truck to get the tractor out of the hole. When the holes are as deep as the tractor is tall, the tractor could flip over, he said.
And it’s not only the big ones that are dangerous.
“What would happen if you stepped into a small four-foot-deep hole?” he asked. “You can do as much damage with a small, deep hole as a large one.”
About a third of the people he asks to fill in the holes before they leave the beach actually do, Taylor said. When he comes back the next day in the tractor, he finds that people have sometimes placed chairs around their hole to protect it so they can keep digging in it the next day.
By law, that must stop on May 1, the beginning of the six-month sea turtle nesting and hatching season on the Island.
Chairs and other objects must be removed from the beach at night, and holes, which can trap turtles, must be filled in.
But Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, is also worried about people.
Without ordinances in all three Island cities, police can do nothing, even when they spot a dangerous hole in the sand, she said.
Anna Maria is working on an ordinance, Fox said, suggesting that Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach use the same ordinance to save money on attorney fees and make enforcement standardized Island-wide.
“I think the quicker, the better,” Fox said, since turtle season is only a few days away. “The less obstacles turtles have to work around, the more energy they will save for their nesting duties.”
Other ordinances around the state limit shovels to 14 inches, including the handle, she said.
“It’s surprising how much damage you can do with toy shovels,” Taylor said, citing a Panama City ordinance that prohibits metal shovels and imposes a $25 fine for holes bigger than a washtub.
“It used to be young guys on spring break, but this year it’s been more young families with their kids” digging the holes, he said.
This week, Taylor is using the beach rake tractor to smooth out the shoreline to make it easier for nesting turtles to access the beach.
No turtles had nested as of Monday, April 23, Fox said, adding that Turtle Watch volunteers have been scouring the beaches at dawn each morning since April 1.
They have found two snowy plover nests, a threatened species in Florida, and black skimmers – another state threatened species – are starting to nest in Holmes Beach, she said.
Loggerhead turtles, the most common sea turtles on the Island, already are coming ashore to nest on Florida’s east coast, she said, adding that it won’t be long for the west coast girls to arrive here.
Last year’s sea turtle season on the Island was a record, with 488 nests and 25,379 hatchlings that made it to the Gulf of Mexico.