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New challenges face 2013 sea turtle nesting season

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

A record 2012 sea turtle nesting season didn’t officially end until a green turtle nest hatched in December. The 2013 season begins May 1 and it won’t be long before female turtles show up again on island shores to lay their nests. Islander Photo: Mark Young

John Ester, visiting from Honor, Mich., observed and photographed three pairs of threatened snowy plovers March 15 setting up nests in the sandy upland on an Anna Maria beach. According to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, the birds typically nest farther north, but a few nesting pairs find their way to AMI each year. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warns beachgoers to give way to the nesting plovers and their chicks.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring volunteers are just catching their breath after a record 2012 sea turtle nesting season.

According to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox, while this year’s season doesn’t begin until May 1, AMITW volunteers gathered March 18 at Holmes Beach City Hall to learn of this year’s challenges.

Fox said beach renourishment plans are scheduled for this summer on island shores, which means “this year every nest that is laid from day one has to be relocated north of 80th Street in Holmes Beach.”

Fox said there is no way to predict turtle numbers from year to year, but the relocation of all the nests south of 80th Street will certainly add to volunteer workload.

“However, this is my 28th renourishment project, so we are very experienced,” she said. “This will mean every home and business along the Gulf side in the city of Anna Maria will have extra nests placed in front of their properties. It’s more important than ever to ensure all lights in this area be 100 percent in compliance with the city codes.”

While numbers are difficult to predict, the leatherback turtle season in other areas of the state are already heavier than expected, Fox said.

“We are still a few months away from loggerhead nesting season, but if this is any indication of what we can expect for our season, it may be another banner year,” she said.

Fox said AMITW is stepping up education on birds this year. Since incorporating shorebird nesting into the program, she said sees benefit to turtle season, as well.

“We are planning some beach talks and have created new handouts,” she said. “We also have partnered up with Manatee Audubon for more beach stewarding programs on the weekends, not just holidays.”

Fox said thanks to last year’s record season, volunteers are braced for a busy season and the added workload.

“We will need to work faster and harder in the morning to get the job done,” she said. “Our team of volunteers is top notch and our work has been recognized as being among the top programs from South Carolina to the Texas coastline by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.”

Fox said her volunteers can not only handle the added burden of relocating nests this year, “but we are welcoming the challenge.”

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