Turtle Watch director Suzi Fox dies

Turtle Watch director Suzi Fox dies
Suzi Fox directs onlookers during the 2015 release of a loggerhead sea turtle at Bayfront Park in Anna Maria. - Cindy Lane | Sun

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Suzi Fox, a longtime former Island resident and executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, died last week at HCA Florida Blake Hospital.

Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring for more than 30 years, died Sept. 30 at HCA Florida Blake Hospital due to complications from a recent fall. – Cindy Lane | Sun

Fox, 65, died due to complications following a fall at home on Sept. 24, according to family members, who said her death was unexpected. Her son, Dereck Norfleet, said she had been in the hospital for six days prior to her death.

Fox’s interest in the Island’s sea turtles began in 1990. She had moved with her mother and sisters from Michigan to Miami, where she was a hotel manager, then they relocated again to Anna Maria Island. Her turtle career began after she found a turtle nest at Bayfront Park.

She told The Sun in 2011 she felt she had a calling and joined the organization’s 40 volunteers.

“We didn’t go to all the training we go to today,” because so little was known about sea turtles at the time, she said on the occasion of her 20th anniversary with Turtle Watch. Most turtle eggs were dug up and relocated to hatcheries, then the hatchlings were raised for several weeks before their release into the Gulf of Mexico.

As more became known about sea turtles, some in the organization decided to try nature’s way, and leave the eggs in their nests to hatch. Fox agreed to try it for a year.

“I wasn’t certain this was going to work,” she said. “The first nest we left on the beach was at Park Avenue. We saw it hatch and I was so excited.”

In 1996, Fox became the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s turtle permit holder for the Island, adding nesting shorebird monitoring and protection to her duties.

Under her directorship, the organization grew. According to the AMITW website: “For 30+ years Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch (AMITW) has coordinated conservation efforts for 12 miles of Manatee County shoreline. In three decades, we monitored 7,339 turtle activities, protected 4,454 nests, 301,694 turtle eggs, and watched 271,680 hatchlings depart to become a future generation of loggerheads that will return to the region as they reach maturity – in about 30 years.”

Turtle Watch director Suzi Fox dies
Suzi Fox and her late partner, Skip, patrol Anna Maria Island’s beaches for signs of sea turtle nesting. – Cindy Lane | Sun

Sea turtles broke both nesting and hatchling records this year on the Island.

In an email to The Sun from Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Natural Resources Department, he wrote, “Words cannot explain the complications of life and fleeting moments mixed with joy of recovery and tragic endings. She will live on each and every time we remember her smile, her passion, and her good works for all the creatures that relied upon her for their very existence on the Island.”

Fox moved from the Island to West Bradenton a few months ago.

She is survived by her son Dereck, his wife Katherine, and their two children, Elizabeth and Ashley. She is also survived by her sister, Nanci Banman and her husband Gene, and her sister, Kendra Fox.

The family said that a memorial service will be planned for later this year at the beach.

Donations in Fox’s memory may be made to Turtle Watch online.