ANNA MARIA – A loggerhead sea turtle jumped the gun and laid the first nest of the 2020 season on Anna Maria Island’s north end sometime the night of Sunday, April 19, nearly two weeks before the official start of turtle season on May 1.
Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, said the turtle appeared to have made a false crawl first in the same area, meaning she came ashore to nest but did not do so right away.
“It’s the earliest a turtle has ever come in here, I think,” said Fox, who began monitoring local beaches early, on April 1.
A vastly reduced crew of Turtle Watch staff is monitoring the beaches by ATV this season – for their own safety, no beach walkers will be allowed to volunteer to spot nests on foot due to the coronavirus pandemic, much to the dismay of some volunteers, Fox said.
During sea turtle season, May 1 – Oct. 31, please follow these tips:
– Turn off lights visible from the beach and close blinds from sundown to sunrise; lights confuse nesting sea turtles and may cause them to go back to sea and drop their eggs in the water, where they won’t hatch. Light can also attract hatchlings away from the water.
– Don’t use flashlights, lanterns or camera flashes on the beach at night.
– Remove all objects from the sand from sundown to sunrise; they can deter sea turtles from nesting and disorient hatchlings.
– Fill in the holes you dig in the sand before leaving the beach; they can trap nesting and hatching sea turtles, which cannot live long out of the water.
– Don’t use wish lanterns or fireworks; they litter the beach and Gulf.
– Do not trim trees and plants that shield the beach from lights.
– Never touch a sea turtle; it’s the law. If you see people disturbing turtles, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Every volunteer on an ATV has a mask, Fox said adding, “We are using hand sanitizer and wipes. We want as few volunteers as possible on the beach for their safety.”
Due to social distancing concerns, Fox requests that if anyone sees a Turtle Watch ATV, please do not flag down the driver to chat. Instead, call 941-778-5638, email Fox or visit the organization’s new website or its Facebook page.
Fox also asks that people observe turtle lighting regulations to keep turtles and people safe – light sources should not be able to be seen from the beach – and that people don’t leave their beach chairs on the beach after sunset because they can entrap nesting sea turtles – and, in a few months, their hatchlings.
Beach chairs should not be an issue because beaches remain closed in Manatee County due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Manatee County Information Outreach Manager Nicholas Azzara.
Beach renourishment is still planned for this summer, and Turtle Watch will work around the project, which turtles need as much as people do as beaches erode, leaving less room to nest, Fox said.
Last year, a record number of turtle nests was laid on the Island – 544, beating the 2018 record of 534.
Turtle Trail scavenger hunt is on
Just in time for the beginning of the sea turtle nesting season on Anna Maria Island on May 1, the Turtle Trail scavenger hunt has begun.
The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is launching the Turtle Trail to provide residents and their families with a safe and enjoyable activity to take part in while socially distancing.
In partnership with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, the CVB is encouraging residents and business owners to put stuffed animals, figurines, statues, photos or illustrations of sea turtles in windows, on mailboxes or in other visible places for families to search for while out on walks together. For those in need of a turtle to display, the CVB has created a printable coloring page that can be downloaded here.
Those who take part by putting a sea turtle on display or heading out with family to follow the trail are also encouraged to share images of their turtles or those they find on Instagram using #BradentonAreaTurtleTrail.