Turtle Watch preps volunteers in spring training

Loggerhead hatchling
- Cindy Lane | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring is starting earlier and doing things differently this sea turtle season to safeguard sea turtles better than ever.

Volunteer beach walkers already are scanning the Island’s beaches at dawn each morning for signs of nesting; Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox thinks that unseasonably warm weather may prompt nesting before the May 1 season starts.

Suzi Fox, Turtle Watch director
Suzi Fox

Turtle watchers will do several things differently this year to better focus on keeping track of the increasing number of threatened loggerhead turtles and occasional endangered green turtles that nest and hatch on the Island for six months each year, she said.

Sea turtles will no longer pose for photo ops beginning this year, Fox told volunteers at the 2017 Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Spring Training at CrossPointe Fellowship last Tuesday.

Hatchlings discovered during excavations that are still in a nest after all the others have hatched will be placed in a bucket on wet sand with a towel over the bucket, and not displayed or handled any more than necessary, she said.

Volunteers will no longer verify nests by digging into them the morning after they are laid to find eggs, Fox said. Instead, they must use signs in the sand to determine whether a nest is real or a false crawl – an abandoned nesting attempt usually caused by obstacles on the beach or lights, she said, reviewing tips on spotting and identifying turtle tracks of the two species that nest on the Island.

Read the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Conservation handbook here.

Volunteers also will not tag furniture and other items illegally left on the beach overnight or taking photos of illegal lights; that is a job for the code enforcement officers in each of the Island’s three cities, Fox said. Turtle Watch volunteers also will not approach people who may be endangering turtle nests; they should call police instead, she said.

Volunteers will no longer be filling in holes in the sand, which can entrap turtles, or watching nests at night near their hatching due dates, which tends to attract people from the beach who sometimes disorient the nests, causing hatchlings to die, Fox said.

Red flashlights formerly used by volunteers will no longer be allowed on the beach, as red film does not convert the light frequencies to those turtles cannot see.

Turtle watchers will mark nests with three instead of four yellow stakes this year, and they will be higher and have two rows of tape marking the nests to increase visibility, she said.

Fox thanked Manatee County’s beach raker, Mark Taylor, who already is at work grading the sand at the water’s edge to make it easier for turtles to climb onto the beach. With his tractor, he is also fluffing up the sand to make it easier for turtles to dig, countering the last beach renourishment that packed the sand more densely than normal.