The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 8 No. 50 - September 3, 2008

TURTLES

Turtles suffer from storm and lights

BRADENTON BEACH — There has been a second disorientation of a nest at Coquina Beach Club, which could result state and federal fines and will result in an appearance before Bradenton Beach’s special master.

Hatchlings were found swimming in the storm sewers at the edge of the property, Bradenton Beach city employees said.

"This is the second time this has happened here," said Building Official Steve Gilbert. "The first one was less than two weeks ago."

Gilbert said that every beachfront property in the city got a letter advising them to turn off or shield nany lights on their property that are visible from the beach. The Coquina Beach Club is at 1906 Gulf Drive, just south of the S curve on the beach.

"We put hang tags there as well after we noticed their lights were out of compliance," said Code Enforcement Officer Wendy Chabot.

The city’s code enforcement officers sent a notice to the condominium on Aug. 21 advising them that illegal lights there had apparently caused a disorientation there.

Fortunately, that first time, there were 21 members of a vacationing family that found the hatchlings that time, picked them up, put them in a container with sand on the bottom and called Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.

However, at the second disorientation that took place sometime during the overnight hours between Aug. 26 and 27, there was no one to pick up the hatchlings.

Some 15 babies were fished out of the storm sewer. Gulf Drive traffic killed several more.

At press time, AMITW volunteers were still assembling the statistics from that nest.

AMITW Director Suzi Fox filed a disorientation report with Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission after the first and the second disorientations. The city also forwarded a report to the state, and Gilbert said he expects the state will forward the report on the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"They can assess a fine in the taking of a protected species," Gilbert said. "That fine can be as much as $10,000 per individual."

That means that if it can be proven that the lighting at Coquina Beach Club caused the disorientation of 15 hatchings, the fine could run as high as $150,000.

Coquina Beach Club will be summoned to appear before the city’s special master sometime in late September, according to Gilbert.

"These lights have caused irremediable and irreparable damage," Gilbert said. "We take this very seriously. We really don’t want to ever have to call someone before the special master, but sometimes that’s the only way to get someone to come into compliance."

Fines can be levied for each day a property is out of compliance with the city’s turtle protection ordinance.

Storm toll

While passing by the Gulf coast of the Island, Hurricane Gustav claimed quite a few turtle nests.

"We lost several nests," said board member Ed Sterba. "It was wave action on the Gulf that took out nests, but it was actually about a 3-foot storm surge on the bayside that drowned every single nest on that side of the Island."

Sterba said no one had expected that.

"When we went to bed late last night, the water was high, but it wasn’t over the sea walls there," he said. "When we got up this morning, we saw that it had gotten high enough so it was over all the sea walls along that stretch."

Several nests were also lost along stretches of the Gulf.

There was one tiny piece of good news, though.

State regulations prohibit moving turtle nests more than 12 hours after they are laid. However, if the eggs are exposed, they can be collected and reburied higher on the beach.

"We found eight eggs tossing in the surf during Tropical Storm Fay down in Section 8 (from about 1900 Gulf Drive down to Cortez Road.) All eight of those eggs hatched a week later," Sterba said. "Sometimes you can save them."

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