The nests that mother sea turtles labor hard to dig on the Island’s Gulf beaches this season will be dug up and relocated by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring to protect the nests during the upcoming beach renourishment project.
The county has notified Turtle Watch that the project, which will add sand to Island beaches badly eroded by Tropical Storm Debby last year, will begin in July, starting at Longboat Pass and working north to 79th Street in Holmes Beach, Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox said.
That means that nests laid at the start of turtle season, May 1 or earlier, if the mothers arrive earlier, will have to be dug up and relocated north of 80th Street since they will hatch more than two months later, after the project begins, she said.
If the nests weren’t moved, the renourishment project could cover them, making it impossible for the turtle hatchlings to dig out.
The project also may make it difficult for mother turtles to nest, depending on whether large pipes are laid on the beach for days at a time.
As the project progresses north on the Gulf beach, Turtle Watch will leave the nests laid on the newly renourished beaches, she said, but added that turtles don’t generally like to nest in wet sand, and renourished beaches are saturated, since the sand comes from the Gulf.
Fox said her volunteers are up to the relocation, and have a great deal of experience at managing turtles during renourishment projects.
“We’ve done this before,” she said. “This will be my 28th renourishment,” including minor projects on the bay side of the Island.
With nearly 60 volunteers, including 15 new ones who learned the ropes last Tuesday night at an orientation meeting, and more ATVs to move them around the beach faster, Fox still acknowledges that this season will be “a load of extra work for us.”
The volunteers will even have to wear shoes and hard hats while working in the project area, she said.
Meanwhile, on the east coast of Florida, Leatherback turtles are nesting in larger numbers and earlier than usual.
“This could be a big year,” Fox said.
Nesting birds also affected
Volunteers also were briefed on nesting and hatching shorebirds, which also will be affected by the renourishment project, since their nesting grounds, mostly in Anna Maria, will be shared by potentially hundreds more turtle nests than normal.
Turtle Watch will avoid relocating too many turtle nests near the bird nesting area from 80th Street north to Pine Avenue, Fox said.
In the past, birds have not nested in the renourishment project area, except for a patch of empty beach fronting the failed GSR condo project lot across from the Circle K in Bradenton Beach, which is within the project boundaries, Fox said, adding that nesting there could cause problems.
The renourishment project will require 100 percent compliance with turtle season regulations from every business owner, resident and vacationer in Anna Maria, where the nests will be relocated, Fox said. That includes rules on not allowing lights to be seen from the beach and removing beach furniture and other objects from the beach at dusk, from May 1 to Oct. 31.
It also will require beachgoers to be even more careful not to frighten birds while they’re sitting on nests or resting and feeding near the water, as they could abandon their nests, she said.
Two of the Island’s species of nesting birds are being considered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for uplisting to “threatened” status, the American oystercatcher and black skimmer, both currently state species of special concern, one step under threatened. The Island also hosts snowy plovers and least terns during nesting season, which are threatened, one step under endangered.