Turtle nesting down on AMI

- Cindy Lane | Sun

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – As sea turtle nesting winds down this season, nesting statistics are down from last year’s record of 544 nests to 332 nests.

Among the possible reasons – COVID-19.

When the coronavirus arrived on the Island, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring Director Suzi Fox decided to sharply reduce the number of volunteers who walk the beaches finding and staking off nests and excavating them after they hatch to count the eggshells.

“We have to be safe,” she said, asking that beachgoers avoid approaching Turtle Watchers on the beach and call 941-778-5638 instead.

With a reduced workforce, Fox decided not to count turtle nests or hatchlings in the city of Anna Maria this year, only keeping statistics on Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach nesting and hatching. The permit under which Turtle Watch operates does not require the organization to keep nesting statistics for beaches that are not renourished, she said, and Anna Maria is not included in the beach renourishment project now underway and scheduled to end in October or November.

Renourishment replaces sand on the beach that has been lost to erosion, protecting it from future erosion from storms, and protecting upland buildings and roads.

Nests laid on the bayside of the Island – which is also not being renourished – are not being counted either, and may account for another 50 to 60 nests, she estimated.

Turtles also may be avoiding nesting on the Island’s beaches when they sense renourishment activities, which includes heavy equipment working 24 hours a day under bright lights at night, when turtles nest. Sea turtles typically avoid lights, often returning to the Gulf of Mexico without nesting if they see lights from beachfront buildings, parking lots or streets.

While nesting is not approaching last year’s record, it is still above the 20-year average of 252 nests, according to Turtle Watch statistics.

Statistics on hatchings also are down from record numbers at the start of hatchling season, with 3,095 hatchlings documented so far as having made it to the Gulf from their nests. The record, set in 2018, is 35,788 hatchlings. The 20-year average is 13,123.

The renourishment project has necessitated relocating turtle nests in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach to one beach in Anna Maria unaffected by renourishment, but Fox said that should not affect the number of hatchings.

The hatchlings have three more months to go to catch up – sea turtle season lasts from May 1 to Oct. 31 on Anna Maria Island.

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