Sea turtle rules begin May 1
Sea turtle nesting season begins on May 1 on Anna Maria Island, and the folks at Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shore Bird Monitoring ask residents, business owners and visitors to please observe laws that protect them.
Five sea turtle species swim in Florida waters, including the loggerhead, the green, the leatherback, the Kemp's ridley and the hawksbill. The loggerhead, the most common locally, is threatened and is being considered for the endangered species list, while the other four are endangered.
Here's what you need to know to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Florida Statutes and ordinances in the three cities on Anna Maria Island.
From May 1 through Oct. 31, beachfront residents and visitors must shield or turn off all lights that can be seen from the beach from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Lights, including interior lights, may not directly or indirectly illuminate the beach.
Light can prevent sea turtles from coming ashore to nest. Light also lures newly-emerged hatchlings away from the water, exposing them to dehydration, predators and vehicles.
In a word, don't. Touching nesting or hatchling sea turtles is prohibited by federal and state law.
Avoid approaching a sea turtle coming out of the water to nest, as you may startle her and she may return to the water without nesting. Also avoid standing between hatchlings and the water, or they may head away from the water.
Flashlights, fishing lights and camera flashes disorient turtles, so don't use them on the beaches during turtle season.
If you find a turtle in distress, such as a hatchling wandering in a road, parking lot or headed away from the water, or if you see someone disturbing a nest or a turtle, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Law Enforcement at 1-888-404-FWCC or *FWC from any cell phone.
Furniture and sports equipment, such as chairs, umbrellas, tents, grills and personal watercraft must be removed from the beach from sunset until sunrise during turtle season because they can prevent nesting turtles from reaching the upper beach where they prefer to nest and entangle hatchlings on their way to the water. Since heavy equipment is not allowed on the beach during nesting season, it must be removed by hand.
Nothing should ever be stored or placed on sand dunes or salt-resistant vegetation such as sea oats, which are protected by federal law.
Avoid using umbrella poles during sea turtle nesting season, instead anchoring a buried umbrella holder or sleeve before the nesting season or using umbrellas that clamp directly to furniture. Poles can pierce eggs in an unmarked nest.
Also fill in holes made by children that may entrap turtles.
Sea grape trimming
Sea grape trees act as a natural barrier blocking artificial lights from nesting beaches. Trimming or removing sea grapes and other trees and tall plants increases light levels on the beach, which can deter turtle nesting and disorient hatchlings, and is considered interference with imperiled species, exposing property owners to fines.