The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 37 - June 3, 2009


Everything you ever wanted to know about turtles


University of Florida Doctoral Candidate Mario Mota, who has
used our beaches for some of his research, was in Suriname
off the coast of Brazil last week. He snapped this photo of a
leatherback digging her nest.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch (AMITW) volunteers will be celebrating their 30th year in 2010. At dawn each morning during nesting season, 100 volunteers take turns walking every stretch of the Island’s beaches. They search for signs of nesting activity. AMITW Director Suzi Fox, who has run the organization since 1996, said lots of people have questions about turtle nesting. We’re sharing some of those questions and Fox’s answers this week.

What would you say is the single biggest challenge you and your volunteers face each year?

Where to have the volunteer banquet. Only kidding. Our main job is gathering the data from the nesting beaches and getting it to the proper government departments. At times we may assist our Island cities with individual light problems but our initial objective is proper data collection of the nest data.

What keeps you and others doing this year after year?

I have always felt that its important to have two jobs – one that pays the bills and one that consists of volunteering for something that is important to you. It’s not just about counting your money. My life is about balance. Give and take. I think my volunteers feel the same way.

If the turtles are so endangered, why don’t you just take the eggs, incubate them and raise the hatchlings until they’re old enough to release the way they used to do on the Island.

There were some problems with that method. Sometimes they washed ashore again in a mass. The turtles need live their lives as close to the way Mother Nature intended as possible. Having a hatchery is also expensive, and there was no way to track if we were really helping or not because there was no way to ‘count heads’. Once we released them we didn’t know where they went. We now may be able to SAT tag them, but those tags are $3K. Who will come up with that money?

With all the problems with lights, especially when the hatchlings emerge, why doesn’t somebody just anchor a well-lit barge offshore to lure the baby turtles into the Gulf?

That would create navigation problems with shipping. The lights also would draw fish that prey on the hatchlings. You might as well just tie bells on every hatchling and set up a smorgasbord for the fish.

There are other reasons keep lighting wattage low and shielded, Migrating birds are harmed by light pollution, It’s also a good idea to keep your lights from blaring because being nice to your neighbors is a good thing.

If the barge idea wouldn’t work, why don’t you just cage the nests so the hatchlings can’t go the wrong way? Then you could just scoop them up from the cage and put them into the water the way you used to as their due dates approaches.

There are some big problems with cages – first is that they off set the hatchlings natural ability to set their magnetic direction finders. Hatchlings must march to sea through the sand they are born from. It’s called imprinting. It teaches the hatchling where their home is, so they know where to come back and nest. Also, cages have to be watched through the night by state permitted volunteers. It’s not fair to ask an unpaid person to sit up all night so a business or home can leave a light on or so they can make money selling their products.

If you have further questions you’d like Fox to address, send them by e-mail to

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper