Raccoons on prowl for turtles
Raccoons have invaded the north end of Anna Maria Island and are digging up loggerhead sea turtle nests and eating the eggs, said Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.
After two nests were destroyed last week, the organization put cages over four remaining unhatched turtle nests in Anna Maria to keep the raccoons out, she said. The turtles will hatch inside the cage, and Turtle Watch volunteers who scout the beaches each morning for hatched nests will collect the hatchlings for release after sundown, making it harder for bird predators to see them.
Cages have been used for years at Coquina Beach, on the south end of the Island, to deter raccoons, which are the single greatest cause of sea turtle mortality in Florida, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
Other causes of death for loggerheads, a threatened species, are predation by ghost crabs, ants and birds and disorientation due to lights visible from the beach.
To deter raccoons, people should keep trash can lids securely fastened or place heavy weights on lids and clean up fruits and berries that fall from trees in their yards.
Anyone feeding stray cats should stop, Fox said, because leaving food outside for feral cats or domestic pets attracts raccoons.
It is a crime to feed raccoons in Florida; repeat violators may be fined up to $500 and receive up to 60 days in jail. Feeding raccoons can result in the animals being euthanized, since it is illegal to relocate nuisance raccoons in Florida, according to the Conservancy.
Raccoons that are fed often come back with other raccoons, and move under decks or other structures. They also can carry distemper, rabies and harmful parasites that can infect pets and people.
Citizens who know or see someone feeding raccoons, should report them to the toll free Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC.