Nesting season nears finish
SUN FILE PHOTO Turtle nesting season is winding down. AMITW volunteers
continue to monitor the beach making sure that the hatchlings from
late-season nesting make it safely into the Gulf. Here, a bucket
of turtle babies that hadn’t yet emerged from an excavated nest
await release into the Gulf. There’s one live pip in the bucket,
which is the term used for a hatchling that isn’t fully emerged
from its egg. By release time, this baby had managed to shed the eggshell.
It’s been a good year for turtles on Anna Maria Island. That’s according to Suxi Fox, who directs the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Program.
“The hatch rate is way up, though the number of nests is about the same as last year,” Fox said. ‘I think that’s probably because we didn’t have any really bad weather – just a few heavy rain days.’
Fox said that when storms bring high surf, nests can wash out to sea, or the eggs can become saturated with saltwater.
“They can take a little wash over, but when the nest is covered in saltwater for a long time, or if it washes over and over and over the nest for a long time, the eggs won’t hatch,” she said.
The situation isn’t any better with rain that brings fresh water that submerges nests for a long time and drowns the hatchlings.
However, there really wasn’t much weather activity of that consequence this summer.
“The heavy rain on that Saturday earlier this month didn’t really affect the nests,” Fox said. “The nests that were still left on the beach were in higher, well drained areas, so the hatchlings were OK.”
Anna Maria Island is the only place in Florida where bayside turtle nesting is found.
In the city of Anna Maria, there have been nests at Bayfront Park for years.
“This year, there were more nests south of the park,” Fox said. “We had three nests south of the Anna Maria City Pier this year.”
The presence of the nests south of the pier means that the city will have to be more vigilant than ever about lighting.
“I’ll have to get with Gerry, (Anna Maria Code Enforcement Officer Gerry Rathvon) to make sure we get the lights at the bay end of Pine Avenue into compliance next year. We don’t want to lose any hatchlings to disorientations.”
All three Island cities have ordinances in place mandating waterfront turtle safe lighting, since artificial lights that are unscreened, too high or too bright can attract turtles from the water. Stiff state and federal penalties could be applied to any property owner whose lighting causes harm or death to sea turtles.
New ideas for education
“One if our main functions is to educate residents and visitors to the Island about nesting turtles and what we can all do to make them safe,” Fox said.
“We had a $10,000 grant to produce brochures to place in rentals and hotel rooms, and that worked pretty well.”
However, Fox said tourists take the brochures home, and towards the end of the season, the educational material may be gone from rental units, so AMITW will try some new things next year.
“I’m working on some grant applications right now,” Fox said. “We are planning to have some stickers to put on light switches in hotel rooms and rentals, and maybe some of those static cling things that we can put on doors that face the water.
Fox said she’s also already booked for several speaking engagements in schools and other venues for the next six months.
Turtles and tourists
A lot of tourists, especially return visitors to the Island are calling or e-mailing AMITW to find out which accommodations are turtle friendly, according to Fox.
“A lot of these people have been on one of our beach tours during a previous visit, and they know about the importance of safe lighting and getting things off the beach,” she said. “They want to come back specifically for the turtles.”
And next year, the people on the beach tours will be monitored.
“The county is asking us to check to see where the people on the tours are coming from next year, so we’ll be doing that,” she said.
An end of season breakfast is set for next Saturday, Sept. 25, at Smuggler’s Landing in Cortez.
“Smuggler’s Landing is donating the use of their club house, and we’re inviting all the volunteers to a special breakfast to thank them and to let them know how their work this summer has helped insure the continued survival of sea turtles,” Fox said.
The breakfast is open to Turtle Watch volunteers only. Any volunteer who hasn’t gotten an invitation can call AMITW at 778-5698 to make sure they have a reservation.