Turtles, birds, need our help

Turtle map
Eliza Ann, a loggerhead turtle satellite tagged last year on Anna Maria Island, is still being tracked.

CORTEZ – Everyone who visits the beach can help sea turtles and shorebirds, Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, told a packed house at the Florida Maritime Museum on Wednesday, March 21.

Fox and about 100 volunteers monitor the Island’s beaches each morning from May 1 to Oct. 31, following turtle tracks to nests, which are marked with stakes and tape and excavated after hatching to determine how many hatchlings were in the nest.

The stakes are placed far enough apart that an adult mother turtle can fit in between them, because turtles do not notice stakes on turtle or bird nests, she said, adding that when a turtle ventures into a staked shorebird nesting area, Turtle Watch does not stake the turtle nest separately, to avoid disturbing the birds.

Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, talks to a full house of wildlife lovers at the Florida Maritime Museum. – Cindy Lane | Sun

Fox showed visitors a video of Eliza Ann, a loggerhead sea turtle that was satellite tagged after nesting on Coquina Beach on June 20, 2017. Sponsored by Waterline Marina Resort in the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Tour de Turtles race, which tracks where and how far turtles swim, Eliza Ann nested four times on local beaches last season, once at Coquina and three times on the north end, she said.

For Fox, that proves the long-held theory that nesting turtles return to the beaches, although not necessarily the exact spot, where they hatched.

Last year, the Island had a record 488 turtle nests, some of which laid eggs on the bay side of the Island. Anna Maria Island is the only island in Florida where sea turtles nest on the bay side, she said.

The biggest problems for turtles on Anna Maria Island are lighting that is not turtle friendly and wish lanterns, Fox said.

In very bright areas, a cage is placed over unhatched nests to trap hatchlings before they can be disoriented away from the water and toward the street by lights. The hatchlings are later released at night, after they have calmed down, Fox said, adding that – like infants – they often calm down after a ride in the car. Bad lighting also can disorient nesting mother turtles.

Information for waterfront homeowners on turtle-friendly lights is available at www.myfwc.com.

Wish lanterns have metal and wood pieces that are slow to biodegrade and can injure turtles and birds, she said, asking people to find another way to celebrate events.

Turtle Watch also participates in a stranding network; turtles can become cold-stunned in winter and need reviving, and fishermen sometimes tangle turtles in their fishing line, cut the line, and bring turtles in for rehabilitation.

Since turtles and birds share the beach, Turtle Watch began monitoring shorebirds in 2006, Fox said, including snowy plovers, least terns, black skimmers and oystercatchers, some of which are imperiled.

As they prepare to nest, fattening themselves up and starting to pair off, Fox will be surveying their numbers in coming weeks.

As bird and turtle seasons approach, the organization will be posting signs on the beaches drawn by schoolchildren warning people about beach etiquette around wildlife, making notecards for sale with kids’ drawings, and working on the “Skip the Straws” and “Darker Skies, Darker Beaches” campaigns to raise awareness about littering and beach lighting.

For more information, visit http://islandturtlewatch.com.