ANNA MARIA ISLAND – With three weeks left in turtle nesting and hatching season, sea turtles have set a nesting record, with 544 nests so far, beating the previous record set in 2018 of 534.
But another record is nothing to celebrate.
More disorientations – 59 – have happened this year than ever before, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox said.
The reason? In most cases, it’s lighting that does not comply with federal, state or local laws.
Turtles, both adults and hatchlings, can lose their way back to the Gulf of Mexico when distracted by outdoor – and indoor – lights from beachfront buildings, parking lot lights, car headlights, street lights, cell phone lights, flashlights and other light sources, including “sky glow,” a general lightening of the sky from a combination of lights.
This year, the sky glow from the Anna Maria Island Centre shopping plaza on East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach is brighter than ever, said Fox, adding that the light is visible from the nesting beaches, which is a violation of turtle laws.
The laws were written to protect imperiled species, including the loggerhead and green sea turtles that nest on the Island. Both are on the federal list of threatened species.
From June 10 through Sept. 23, eight nesting adult females were disoriented after nesting, and one nesting adult female was disoriented while attempting to nest, resulting in the termination of the nesting attempt, known as a “false crawl,” according to Turtle Watch records, based on turtle track observations.
Hatchling statistics are even more grim. One nest with between two and 10 hatchlings was disoriented; 15 nests with between 11 and 50 hatchlings were disoriented and 34 nests with more than 50 hatchlings were disoriented.
The disorientations were worst in Holmes Beach, with Anna Maria having 10, Bradenton Beach having 21 and Holmes Beach having 28.
Most disoriented hatchlings from just north of 80th Street in Holmes Beach crawled south as far as 10 blocks due to lights, Fox said, with some turning onto streets with lights at the end of the streets. Some lights are on beachfront properties, she said.
Fox has purchased a meter to measure sky glow for next season, which she hopes will break another record – no disorientations.