Sea turtles rescued on Bridge Street

Sea turtles rescued on Bridge Street
A crowd gathers around Bradenton Beach Police Officer John Tsakiri after he led the effort to rescue seven sea turtle hatchlings from a storm drain in Bradenton Beach. – Submitted

BRADENTON BEACH – Sea turtle nesting season is in full swing on the Island, and while some locals and visitors have been lucky enough to get a glimpse of newly-hatched babies heading from their nest to the Gulf of Mexico, it doesn’t always go as planned.

That was the case on Aug. 24 when someone reported they saw turtle hatchlings in the storm drain on Bridge Street.

Bradenton Beach Police Officer John Tsakiri arrived on the scene and knew they needed to act quickly to rescue the turtles.

Sea turtles rescued on Bridge Street
West Manatee Fire Rescue opens the storm drain on Bridge Street to rescue seven newly-hatched sea turtles that had become disoriented. – Submitted

“They probably hatched the night before, got disoriented and came across Gulf Drive where they fell in the storm grate,” Tsakiri said. “Somebody saw them and told the manager of Island Time, who was looking for me, so I called the fire department and asked if they could come and open up these big metal grates. They came down, we got a big box, and lifted the two grates up where we got three (turtles) out of one drain and four out of the other one.”

The drains the turtles fell into were located in front of the Daiquiri Deck on one side of Bridge Street and in front of the Bridge Walk Hotel on the other side. Tsakiri says this isn’t the first time the turtles have lost their way and ended up on Bridge Street.

“We’ve already seen a bunch of them in the Circle K parking lot and on Bridge Street,” Tsakiri said. “None of those pipes lead out to the ocean, so they’re not crawling through the pipes, they have to be crossing the streets.”

While at least 30 people gathered to watch the rescue effort and take pictures, Tsakiri said that he and the fire department were the ones who picked up the turtles and placed them in the box. Both departments have dealt with lost turtles on many occasions, and have considerable experience in doing everything possible to get them to safety. The hatchling sea turtles were released into the Gulf of Mexico.

Sea turtles rescued on Bridge Street
Newly-hatched sea turtles were rescued from a storm drain on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. – Submitted

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring says there are many things people can do to minimize the chances of newly-hatched turtles being disoriented, but the three most important things are to keep the beach clean, dark and flat:

  • CLEAN: Keep the beach clean by picking up litter and removing tents, chairs and belongings at the end of the day. Sea turtles can get entangled in junk left on the beach.
  • DARK: Sea turtles nest in the dark. Lights disorient nesting sea turtles and distract hatchlings on their way to the ocean. Turn off flashlights, cell phone lights and porch lights. Hatchlings follow the natural light from the moon.
  • FLAT: A flat beach is a safe beach for nesting sea turtles, hatchlings and visitors as well. Fill in holes and knock down sandcastles before leaving the beach.

It’s not just turtles that find themselves needing rescue. Tsakiri said just a couple of days before the turtles became trapped, he found a seagull he thought had been killed.

“I picked it up on the street and it wasn’t moving, so I brought it to my patrol car and as I was walking it just came back to life,” Tsakiri said. “I took it up to Ed Straight’s place, Wildlife Inc., and he said it was doing really well. I think they’re going to let it go today.”

Tsakiri has also rescued a raccoon stuck in a car engine bay, a large lizard that somebody had as a pet and let go, and while admittedly not a fan of snakes, he recalled a time recently when he had to wrangle a pet boa constrictor someone released. It wound up in a woman’s laundry room on Bay Drive.

On Anna Maria Island, police officers’ jobs entail much more than just helping the public and fighting crime, they are often the first ones, and sometimes the only ones, available to save the wildlife that is part of what makes the Island such a unique place.

Anyone that comes across an animal in distress or observes a non-native species such as a constrictor snake should contact the local police department or wildlife experts such as Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Inc. at 941-778-6324. Do not attempt to assist wild animals without consulting a professional. Even animals that may appear docile or look like they are dead, may not be, and bites from many animals can carry diseases such as rabies, or even be venomous.