Turtle Watch at loggerheads with city on benches

Turtle bench
Benches, beaches and nesting sea turtles don’t mix, a local turtle official says. Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring | Submitted

HOLMES BEACH – After the fireworks on July 4, beachgoers saw a loggerhead sea turtle come ashore, collide with a bench on the beach north of 66th Street and struggle to nest under it, said Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

Turtle Watch staked and roped off the nest, including the bench, but city workers later removed the tape, moved the bench and re-staked the nest without notifying Turtle Watch, she said.

“I question whether they are putting the stakes back inside the nest,” possibly damaging the eggs, she said, adding that the state permit that allows Turtle Watch to stake off nests does not extend to the city of Holmes Beach.

It’s the second case this year of a turtle nesting under a bench; two other turtles abandoned their nesting efforts – called false crawls – after colliding with benches, Fox said. Over the past two years, seven turtles have collided with benches and four have stopped short of nesting due to benches, she said.

In one case, someone went into an area staked off as a federally protected sea turtle nesting area and moved a bench further seaward, making it more likely to be an obstruction to nesting turtles, she said, suggesting the benches could be tied down to keep people from moving them closer to the water.

Fox said that over two years, she has contacted city officials including the mayor, police chief, public works director and code enforcement officer about the recurring problem, and has appeared before the city commission asking for the benches to be relocated to the city’s pocket parks or moved farther off the beach.

“We have removed a number of benches from the beach out of harm’s way,” Mayor Bob Johnson said, calling further relocations “unnecessary for the one or two (turtles) that may wind up under a bench.”

“Their own ordinance does not allow furniture on the beach during nesting season,” Fox said.

Benches are not the same as beach furniture, Johnson said.

“Can you prevent everything? Absolutely not. But we’ve done everything we can to accommodate memorial benches,” he said. “We’ve relocated them to keep them in the general vicinity. Those that are there, we monitor what’s going on there.”

Regarding city workers staking off the nest, he said, “Our people know what they’re doing.”

Adding to Turtle Watch concerns are the new memorial benches being added to the approximately 50 benches on the beach, Fox said, suggesting that perhaps a few benches could have several memorial plaques each, minimizing the number of benches.

Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach also have benches, but not nearly as many, and turtles are not colliding with benches there, she said.

“These collisions with benches have all happened in Holmes Beaches and are in violation of the city’s sea turtle ordinance,” she said. “I think if the donors knew the harm that they are bringing to the nesting mothers, they would be horrified.”

“The good news is, the turtle laid the nest,” Johnson said. “We’ve got more nests than we’ve ever had.”