The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 43 - July 15, 2009


Turtle Watch volunteer brings expertise to Island

Pete and Emily Gross are among the Island people who are retired, which is just another way of saying that they don’t go to a work site each day. It doesn’t mean they don’t work, though to them the work they do is clearly fun.

But this couple that moved to Holmes Beach permanently from Virginia about a year-and-a half ago are in no way retired.

Both now volunteer as section coordinators with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.

"We walk four or five miles on the beach every morning anyway, so we decided we would volunteer to help the turtle program," Emily said. "We really love sea turtles. In fact, when our son was young, he said he was going to come back as a sea turtle."

Gross said he thinks that love of sea turtles must have come to his son as a result of visits to zoos.

Gross was the chief technical officer of Computer Sciences Corporation, a large multi-national consulting business that employs 80,000 people worldwide. CSC has offices in 150 countries and numbers among its clients several foreign governments, Fortune 1000, 500 and 100 companies.

Gross managed the technical side of the operation that developed software applications and consulted with the client base.

Put that expertise together with a passion for sea turtles and you get some interesting and effective results.

"I have a lot of spare time now, so I decided to see if I couldn’t come up with some more efficient ways for AMITW to keep its statistics," he said.

One of the primary functions of the organization is to track the numbers of emergences, which is the term for when a female sea turtle leaves the Gulf and climbs ashore to nest or attempt to nest, the number of nests and the number of hatchlings that make it safely to the sea.

"We have a lot of numbers to keep track of," AMITW Director Suzi Fox said. "We had paper and pencil systems in place, but when Pete came along, he made us these wonderful programs that are so much easier to use. It’s amazing when I think of how we used to do things."

Gross, an intelligent man with a twinkle in his eye, says he just noticed a need he could fill.

The Grosses have accumulated a library of information on sea turtles that they’re using to learn more about the giant ancient reptiles that nest on our beaches.

"They really are fascinating creatures," Emily noted.

Gross agreed, as he revealed more of his interest in the technical side of sea turtle nesting.

"I thought there must be some correlation between the moon and tidal phases," he said. ‘Suzi gave me the nesting data from several years and I made a spreadsheet."

And in the end, Gross said, it turned out that there was no correlation.

"I was sure there would be a connection," he said.

"We are lucky to have Pete and Emily," Fox said. "They are excellent coordinators on the beach, and having Pete apply his knowledge and technical skills to our record keeping is just awesome!"

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