ANNA MARIA ISLAND – A sea turtle trapped in a hole on the beach is lucky that Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers are so diligent at their jobs.
Director Suzi Fox and volunteer Skip Coyne found turtle tracks along the shore last week with footprints next to the tracks stretching for a quarter-mile, indicating that someone had followed the turtle, keeping her from going back into the water.
At the end of the trail was a hole someone had dug on the beach – with the turtle four feet down at the bottom of it.
Her breathing was labored, according to Fox, who has asked beachgoers for years to fill in holes they make in the sand, remove furniture from the beach at sunset and avoid flash photography of turtles.
Coyne began digging a ramp in the sand, and a visiting beachgoer, Kevin Breheny, of Decatur, Illinois, stopped to help him.
“That turtle was totally unphased by them doing it. She was understanding that this was her way out,” Fox said in a video produced for Turtle Watch by local musician Mike Sales.
“She turned towards us and she could sense that or see it,” Coyne said.
“This turtle looked up and looked at us like – there’s hope,” Breheny said.
The 300-pound turtle began to climb the ramp as they dug it, getting some help from the men to pull her out.
“It took a leap forward on its two front fins,” Breheny said. “I couldn’t believe the strength this turtle had… The next thing we know, off to the ocean it was going.”
The story could have taken a darker turn had any of the season’s first hatchlings fallen into the hole after emerging from their nests last week.
Fox has an urgent message for beachgoers.
“Do not walk with a turtle on the beach at night. She’s tender. She’s pregnant. She needs to do her business and get back out to sea,” she said. “And when you dig a hole, fill the hole back in.”
Because the turtle was disturbed by whoever followed her, she did not nest before falling into the hole, according to Fox, who added that the holes are not only dangerous to turtles, but to Turtle Watch volunteers and beachgoers.
“Even if it wasn’t your hole, fill the hole back in,” Fox said.