Networking a key to saving sea turtles
SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
David Anderson, a turtle specialist with Gumbo Limbo,
Boca Raton’s sea turtle conservation program sits by a newly laid nest with Leah Martin,
whose Birmingham family has summered on the Island for generations.
There are state, regional and international organizations that meet with some regularity to share information about the evolving body of knowledge being amassed on sea turtle conservation. Those events are detailed, technical and an opportunity to network.
But on a smaller scale, scientists, volunteers and just plain friends of sea turtles seem to find each other wherever they go. Such was the case last week on Anna Maria Island when David Anderson, a sea turtle specialist with Gumbo Limbo, Boca Raton’s 30-year old sea turtle program.
"I was curious to see how this program here worked," Anderson said. "The city of Boca Raton’s program has six paid employees, and I know that this group was mainly volunteer."
Anderson’s background is in geography. He’s working on his doctorate specializing in coastal and marine geography.
"It’s a different perspective for a sea turtle person," Anderson said. "Most people’s background is in biology. I look more at affecting turtles from a geographic point of view."
Things like coastal development, lighting and beach renourishment have a significant impact on threatened and endangered sea turtles that use beaches all over the world to nest.
"Things like weather, climate, landscaping — all have an impact on sea turtles," Anderson said.
On the question of global warming, Anderson, like most scientists, doesn’t rush to call it a fact, but he does point out that with sea levels predicted to rise and with the edge of the beaches lined with man-made dwellings, the sea turtle nesting habitat is likely to become even more constrained.
"And with all this development along the barrier islands and shorelines, we will likely be doing something to protect people’s investments," he said. "I think probably the best thing in terms of the environment in general and sea turtles in particular, is renourishment."
He noted that sea walls, groins and other erosion control devices don’t work as well and are detrimental to wildlife, so renourishment is probably here to stay.
Under state law, renourished beaches have to be monitored for sea turtle and bird nesting. Here on the Island, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch does that job. Director Suzi Fox is paid by the county to perform that job. She has developed and coordinates a group of a hundred or so committed volunteers who work tirelessly to make sure every inch of beach is monitored for signs of nesting each morning at dawn.
In Boca Raton, where renourishment has been an on-going situation for 30 years, the situation is quite different.
"The city pays six sea turtle specialists to monitor about five miles of beach," Anderson said. "We do the same things. We check for signs of nesting, verify the nests (verifying means to dig down to make sure there are actually eggs in the nest cavity,) and relocating when necessary."
Boca Raton has serious problems with predators, according to Anderson.
"We have foxes and raccoons that regularly dig into the nests to eat the eggs," he said. "We use screens to keep them out, and lately, we’ve been using pepper powder."
The pepper powder is sprinkled around and over the nest area. Anderson said it repels the predators because it’s so unpleasant on their tongues and it doesn’t appear to have any adverse effect on the hatchlings.
Anderson and Fox discussed the predation problem for a while, and Fox noted that there had been a significant problems with raccoons a during a renourishment project when a lot of nests had to be relocated from the renourishment area to Coquina Beach.
"You know," she said. "We always learn things from each other."
Anderson was in town visiting childhood friend Blake Martin and his family, including Martin’s daughter, Leah, 10. The Martins have been summering here for many generations.
"I used to come here as a child to visit Blake, and we knew the turtles nested here, so I was especially curious about the turtle program here,” Anderson said. “I knew of Suzi and I wanted to meet her. I saw her a couple of times at conferences, but she was always surrounded by people. I contacted her before I came over so we could get together."
Here’s another turtle side note: Leah visited Project Sea Turtle, the sea turtle and environmental camp that calls the Island shores home. She’s now looking forward to being a camper next year when she’s here.