The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 40 - June 24, 2009


Turtle nesting numbers way up


Chris Swosinski, an AMITW volunteer shows a
turtle egg to Claire Castillo, 8, who is visiting

If you think you’re seeing more turtle nests marked off on the beach this summer, your eyes aren’t deceiving you.

"Our nest count is way up so far this year," said Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox. "As of June 19, we had 74 nests. That’s way ahead of last year, when we had 41 at this time. In 2007, we only had 26, and in 2006, it was 40."

Fox said she wasn’t sure why the increase in nests was occurring.

"Maybe it’s because our beaches are nice and dark," she speculated. "There are only a few problem spots this year."

Or perhaps it’s the temporary ban on longline fishing in the Gulf that was enacted after a disturbing number of turtles were snagged and drowned by the longline fishery, Fox said.

"Whatever the reason, it takes decades to really confirm or establish that there are trends," Fox said. "We are the data collectors on our beaches. Other people are collecting data on beaches all over the world. The scientists put all that information together and that’s when we know what trends are happening."

Overall, there has been a downward trend in loggerhead nesting, though last year was an exception with a greater number of nests overall.

Beach tours

AMITW offers beach tours each Wednesday morning. Residents and visitors gather at the south end of the Manatee Public Beach at 7 a.m. and wait until beach volunteers call in with information on the previous night’s nesting activity.

"We can’t guarantee that we can show a nest, but at this time of year, it’s probably going to happen," Fox said.

She and Christina Swosinski are in charge of the tours.

The people on the tours have been able to see the tracks where a turtle crawled out of the water as well as a nest.

"Since our protocol now is to verify each nest, they get to see an egg, too," Swosinski said.

Two weeks ago, a nest that was laid too close to the waterline was dug up and moved safely back into the dunes, so people on that tour got to see that operation take place.

Dr. Steve Jackson, pastor of New Song Community Church in Georgia, was so moved by the tour and by the turtles that he wrote about his experience on his blog. You can see what he wrote and some of his photos at

This past week, a crowd gathered at the public beach and then headed out to a freshly laid nest just south of Gulf Drive Café in Bradenton Beach.

"This is a nest," said Claire Castillo, 8, who was visiting from Minnesota with her family. "Turtles lay about 100 eggs, you know."

Castillo had obviously been reading up on turtles before coming to the tour.

"This is pretty exciting," she said as she knelt down in the sand close to where Swosinski was gently making sure there were eggs in the nest.

"Cool," she said when Swosinski held up an egg for the crowd to see, Chuck Degenhardt was visiting from Cincinnati with his family, and he said he thought the tours were something that every visitor ought to make a point to experience.

"There aren’t a lot of places where you can actually see how a group is working to save an endangered species," he said. "I’m impressed that the whole community helps by keeping lighting safe for the turtles and by making sure the nests are safely marked."

To sign up for one of the Wednesday tours, call the AMITW phone line and register. The number is 778-5638.

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