There was laughter, smiles and a few tears as Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring celebrated July 28 its 22nd annual volunteer awards banquet and 30 years in existence.
“Think about something you’ve done for 30 consecutive years,” said AMITW executive director Suzi Fox. “I know what it means to me and all of you sitting in this room to belong to a program that’s been going for 30 years.”
Fox said this year’s group of volunteers has had to work physically harder than any other group.
“We have had 665 crawls onto our shores,” she said. “There were 336 that nested and 329 that took a break, pulled a flipper over their brow and said not tonight as they crawled back into the sea. This group has had to do three times the amount of stuff we do on an average year.”
The previous record nesting season was set in 1999 with 248 nests, while the 11-year average for nesting on AMI is 155 nests.
Each year since 2000, AMITW has selected one volunteer to receive the Sadie Award, named after a loggerhead sea turtle that tried to nest 12 years ago, but was injured when she fell off of a seawall.
AMITW teamed up with MOTE and provided 24-hour care for Sadie. While Sadie and its winners will not be forgotten, Fox said she is retiring the award because all of this year’s volunteers deserve the award.
Instead, Fox said the $100 award will be put toward an educational kiosk, “because there is not a single kiosk in Manatee County.”
Fox continued the awards banquet by recognizing her fellow AMITW board members, educational directors, coordinators and rookie walkers.
“This is the most new volunteers we have had in any year,” said Fox. “Our new people have made my world rock. I looked at things through their new eyes.”
Fox said this year’s awards theme of “record-breaking season” was an easy decision to make despite the arrival of Tropical Storm Debby in late June.
Initial estimates in lost nests were around 90 nests lost or destroyed, but Fox said July 28 that the number of lost nests has been lowered to around 60.
“And there still may be more nests out there that we don’t even know about, because there was about four or five days when we couldn’t monitor the beaches,” she said.
Fox said more nests were laid after Debby than before the storm arrived.
“When nature comes in, we are sorry about that, but we carry on with things,” she said. “We know we can’t save them all, but we know we did save 25 nests that were reburied at Coquina Beach.”
Nature is one thing, Fox said. The goal of AMITW remains to educate the public on the dangers of beach lighting during nesting season that disorients hatchlings back toward Gulf Drive instead of following moonlight back to the Gulf of Mexico.
Fox said potential development on the island is another issue, and laws she helped put together for sea turtle habitat protection in 1997 are in danger.
“Our board does not get involved with politics,” said Fox. “But I want to tell you guys this is an important election and you need to get out and vote. Our goal with AMITW is to protect nesting habitat. I won’t tell you who to vote for. I’ll just ask that you study a candidate’s environmental position on development before you vote.”
Fox closed out the awards banquet by giving everyone a blue marble. The significance, she said, is threefold.
“I want to share the blue marble with all to explain this is what we look like millions of miles away,” she said. “When you hold it to your head think of someone in your life who makes a difference and then hold it to your heart and think of all of the good things about that person.”
Finally, Fox said, if the blue marble represents your world, “then find that person and share it with them.”
Nesting season is winding down slowly, Fox said, and thus far only one nest has hatched, so the already busy group of volunteers have much work ahead.
By the numbers as of July 27:
False Crawls: 329
Hatchlings to the sea: 55