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AMITW meets CSI

By Lisa Neff, Islander Reporter

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring leaders gather near the Willow Avenue beach access July 19 to discuss unusual developments in the nesting season — the emergence of a green sea turtle and a renourishment problem at Coquina Beach and a sheriff’s office search on the beach in Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring crew at a green turtle nest on Coquina Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers routinely can be found at sea turtle nest excavations in July, when nests begin hatching.

But last week’s excavation was a rarity for AMITW, which served as a consultant to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, whose detectives oversaw a search of the beach for missing motel-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a special permit for the activity, which likely will continue this week.

From July 19-22, the MCSO excavated the beach near Willow Avenue in Anna Maria, searching for clues in the November 2008 disappearance of the Holmes Beach woman, who is presumed dead.

With the possibility of MCSO uncovering an unmarked nest, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox and a series of volunteers remained on the scene from about 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. July 19-21 and from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 22.

“I’m a little nervous about them finding a nest we didn’t find because of the storm,” Fox said, referring to a thunderstorm several weeks earlier that washed out some nests, drowned some black skimmer chicks and kept AMITW walkers off the beach for a day.

Additionally, there were several marked turtle nests in the excavation area for the MCSO to avoid. One nest, just south of Willow that’s set to hatch in early August, received special attention, with a babysitter seated alongside it for the duration of last week’s search.

Musil-Buehler, an ardent animal-lover, had been an AMITW volunteer and the nest guardians reminisced about her as they watched the MCSO excavation.

“She once chased a gull that had a hatchling,” AMITW coordinator Glenn Wiseman said, adding that Musil-Buehler trained him and his wife for the volunteer program.

Fox, taking a turn monitoring the excavation site, summarized, “This is a week for weird beach activity.”

On Coquina Beach, AMITW verified a green turtle nest made July 18-19, a rare occurrence for the Island.

The loggerhead is the sea turtle most likely to nest on Anna Maria Island beaches — as of July 22, AMITW had documented more than 120 loggerhead nests.

But the last known green turtle nest was laid in July 2002 near 10th Street South after the turtle crawled ashore twice and took an arduous trek through an obstacle course of beach furniture, according to Islander archives.

The green turtle is an endangered species, protected by federal and state law, as well as international accords.

This season’s green turtle nest was moved north of Coquina because of another rare circumstance. While tractors were excavating the beach in Anna Maria as part of a homicide investigation, construction equipment on Coquina Beach was removing rocks from the beach.

“They pumped rock through the pipeline down there,” Fox said, referring to this spring’s beach renourishment work at Coquina.

In April, Manatee County oversaw a $6 million beach project that involved pumping sand and water from a borrow area in Tampa Bay through tubing and metal pipes to the Island shore. The project renourished a small section of shore in Anna Maria, partly where the MCSO dug last week, and much of Coquina Beach.

With the sand-sifting last week at Coquina, AMITW, which holds multiple permits from the state to monitor nesting activity, was under orders to relocate new nests, including the green turtle nest.

Seventeen marked nests, laid before the re-renourishment work began, remained at Coquina Beach last week.

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