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AMITW answers the BIG question

Carol Soustek, left, AMITW volunteer beach walker, rejoices on learning the morning turtle crawl she found May 13 at 66th Street is indeed verified to be the first nest of the 2013 sea turtle nesting season. With her in front of the nest is section coordinator Debbie Basilius. The nest is projected to hatch around July 7. Islander Photo: Courtesy Suzi Fox

What the heck is holding up the turtle girls from nesting?

To answer this we pulled out some dusty old files, going back to 1980. The past year’s first nest arrived on May 5. In 2011, we had a surprise with the first nest found April 27. But back in 1988, the girls were running late, and the first nest didn’t appear here until June 8.

We’ve learned over the years that with sea turtles, it’s all about water temperature.

From the time in April when the lady turtles are winking at the guy turtles to when the egg bearing females climb from their home in the water to our sandy shore, everything has to do with temperature.

The nesting female looks for a nesting spot by checking the warmth of that sand. It must be perfect — to her liking — to coddle her eggs and ensure the proper development of the hatchlings.

The females are just off shore, where they’re waiting for the Gulf of Mexico waters to reach 80 degrees or higher. And the sandy beach on Anna Maria Island must be warm enough to incubate their clutch of eggs for 50-70 days.

We start monitoring  AMI’s nesting beaches every year on April 1 — running north and south on the beach by ATV. This fulfills the federal permit conditions for AMI’s beach renourishment projects.

Our staff — the world’s best volunteers — start patrolling the beach on foot May 1.

In years past, I have driven the ATV wearing full foul-weather gear, short-sleeve T-shirts, sweatshirts and sometimes a raincoat. Last year, my first day was spent in short sleeves, this year it was a sweatshirt…. Some days hood up, some day’s hood down.

I recently received a memo from Allen Foley, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission coordinator of sick and injured sea turtles. His staff has been rescuing a high number of young, lethargic green turtles. He believes the early warming trend a month ago, followed by a sharp cold snap a week ago, brought on a shock to our coastal sea turtle population.

Our nesters go by water temperature, and I go by my own unscientific test.

When I get up at 5 a.m., the first thing I do is open the back door in Bradenton Beach and let my pack of dogs out to do their duty. When my bare tootsies touch the patio tile, it’s either “brrrrr” or “ahhhh.”

Mother’s Day morning was still a little “brrrrr.” And still no nest on the beach.

But Monday? The tootsies felt a bit warmer, but, more interestingly, the sand around the new nest felt warmer than the air.

Happy turtle days and a great summer to you all.

— Suzi Fox, executive director, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring

 

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