Hundreds of sea turtles spotted offshore

A sighting just offshore of Anna Maria Island is an indication that sea turtle nesting season is not far away.

Eric Cairns, manager of the Cedar Cove Resort, 2710 Gulf Drive, was flying his helicopter over the resort, when he turned it out over the Gulf of Mexico waters.

What he saw next surprised the veteran pilot.

“I’ve been flying for years and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Cairns. “It was simply amazing.”

About 500 yards due west of the resort in open water, Cairns spotted two large dark masses in the water. He and his copilot dropped the helicopter to about 200 feet above the water to get a better look.

“I saw two massive pods of sea turtles, with about 60-100 sea turtles in each pod,” said Cairns. “They were moving very slowly. They were all the same color and they were all moving in the same direction.”

Cairns said he couldn’t resist making a few more passes over a sight few people get to see.

“When I looked down I just couldn’t get a grasp on what I was seeing,” he said. “We circled back several times and it was just the most amazing thing I ever saw in my life.”

Anna Maria Island Sea Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox said she isn’t surprised that the turtles are already in the area.

“We feel the unusually warm waters is going to lead to early nesting,” said Fox who noted the sighting was a clear indication of mating.

“Sea turtles are normally not very social animals,” she said. “However, when the girls start waving at the sailors and winking, you know what that means. It’s mating time.”

While it is rare for the average person to see the mating habits of sea turtles, maritime regulars and sea turtle experts have seen these patterns before.

“I remember, about 15 years ago they had so many matings in the entrance of the St. Johns River, right in the middle of the shipping canal,” said Fox, “the freighters were not sure how to get around them. The Coast Guard was called in, and hung off their bows with poles so they could move the turtles softly aside, trying not to disturb them.”

Nesting season officially begins May 1. Typically, only loggerhead turtles nest on AMI beaches. They come ashore after dark and look for sandy conditions to nest on the beach. The sparkle of moon and stars on the water then guide them back to their habitat.

Fox said that May is typically a slower month than June, but action on the beaches this May could get busier than usual with ideal conditions already in place for mating turtles.

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