Tropical Storm Debby treacherous to turtles
Turtle Watch | submitted
Lounging on the beach took on a new twist last week
when someone left a couch on the sand in Anna Maria.
Turtle Watch volunteers disposed of the trash, which
could have disoriented nesting and hatching sea turtles.
Since Tropical Storm Debby swept an unknown number of loggerhead sea turtle nests out to sea last month, Suzi Fox has become even more protective of her “girls.”
The storm left the contours of the beach dramatically different, exposing large boulders, old seawalls and pilings, creating pools, eddies and rivulets and dumping small rocks on much of the beach, making walking and turtle nesting difficult.
After reporting in vain the illegal construction of a stairway on the beach, sand being dumped on the beach without permits and other violations of multiple regulations intended to protect turtles, the normally unflappable director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch nearly flipped when she saw a couch on the beach in Ana Maria last week.
“With all the problems the sea turtles have to face – dogs on the beach, holes in the sand, tents left overnight, lights shining on nesting beaches, businesses not following rules and DEP ( Florida Department of Environmental Protection) not enforcing anything, here on lovely Anna Maria Island, we give a whole new meaning to problems on nesting beaches,” she said.
Volunteers removed the couch in between locating new nests still being laid and monitoring the first nests of the season, which began hatching last week. The turtle season began on May 1 and lasts through Halloween.
The turtles are nesting fast and furious right up to the normal end of the nesting part of the season, which is right about now, Fox said. Earlier this month, they shattered previous records for the number of nests laid, reaching 285 last week, although an unknown number were washed away in T.S. Debby. The record was 244 nests in 1999; the 15-year average is 155 nests.
But the high numbers may not compensate for the increased violations, Fox fears.
After T.S. Debby, Fox reported a stairway built on an easement from the top of a seawall to the newly-eroded beach a few feet below to Holmes Beach officials, who told her it was a DEP matter.
Two turtles have run into the stairway while attempting to nest, judging by their tracks, Fox said.
“It is shameful that the same people can get away with just doing anything illegal and the proper authorities just let it ride,” she wrote in an e-mail to Holmes Beach Code Enforcement Officer Dave Forbes. “This should be moved until it has a proper permit.”
“I was advised to report this to Steve West, as it is a DEP matter,” Forbes responded in an e-mail. “It's my understanding that these newly constructed stairs simply replaced pre-existing stairs that are seaward of the erosion control line, thus being in DEP's hands.”
Fox said that after 15 years of walking the beaches, she recalls no stairway at the location.
West told The Sun that he would investigate and possibly issue a permit after the fact.
A permit is not required for minimal construction, according to Holmes Beach city attorney Patricia Petruff, who told the city commission last week that it’s up to the state to ask the city to assist in issuing any citations. If the owner of the property where the stairway was built does not complain, the city has no authority to issue citations, she added.
Further south, in Bradenton Beach, Fox said she reported that sand was being dumped in the boulders at the Gulf Drive Cafe. She asked West if DEP had issued a permit for the fill, but has not received an answer.
The brown dirt is washing out onto the nesting beaches in the afternoon rains, she told him in an e-mail, estimating that 150 feet of dirt was added five feet high and five feet deep.
Neither the business nor Bradenton Beach officials contacted Turtle Watch to check on nesting in the area before the dirt was dumped, she said.
She also e-mailed West and Anna Maria’s public works director, George McKay, with a report that sand was placed in the 600 block of South Bay Boulevard on sea turtle nesting beach last week, without reply.
“In my opinion, cities are shirking their responsibilities of protecting their own nesting beaches and passing the enforcement onto DEP,” Fox said.