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Coronavirus affecting turtle, bird monitoring

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – COVID-19 will keep most Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers off the beaches as sea turtle and bird nesting seasons begin, according to Director Suzi Fox.

Turtle nesting season begins officially on May 1, but Turtle Watch volunteers usually take to the beach on April 1 each year to catch any early nesters, and already, an early loggerhead nest has been discovered on Florida’s east coast, she said.

“We need to make sure we don’t miss any nests,” said Fox, who, with another volunteer, will monitor the beaches by ATV and let the organization’s other volunteers remain safely at home for the near future.

Depending on the progress of the coronavirus, a “skeleton crew” of about a dozen volunteers on ATVs could be deployed in May, she said.

You can follow Turtle Watch’s activities on its newly-redesigned website, www.islandturtlewatch.com.

“We have to make sure the workers are safe,” Fox said. “I don’t want volunteers on the beach until this thing has passed.”

COVID-19 has affected Turtle Watch financially, too, she said, with a large source of donations drying up with the cancellation of the Farmer’s Market.

In addition, Turtle Talks have been suspended until further notice, she said, adding, “We will not be meeting face to face for at least the next two months.”

The group also monitors spring bird nesting, roping off nesting areas to keep eggs and chicks safe.

So far this year, Fox has seen black skimmers gathering at Coquina Beach and some royal terns “looking amorously at each other,” she said, adding that no snowy plovers have appeared on local beaches yet.

Ruddy turnstones, which leave by summer, are active, and a lesser black back gull has been spotted, she added.

One or two of the gulls, which are noticeably larger than most other birds on the beach, usually come each spring and leave by summer, Fox said.

Turtle Watch will be coordinating with Manatee County on the upcoming beach renourishment project, which will be done during sea turtle nesting season, she said.

The start date for the beach renourishment project is not confirmed, according to Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, but the coronavirus has not yet affected other dredge operations in the U.S., he said.

The beach renourishment project originally slated to begin in February was delayed until April by an Army Corps of Engineers requirement that Manatee County prove its title to a section of the beach.

The six-month, two-phase project will add sand to the beach between 78th Street North in Holmes Beach to Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach, and between Fifth Street South and Longboat Pass.

County funds for the project, estimated between $13-$16 million, come from the tourist tax; state and federal funds also are allocated to the project.

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