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It’s official: Sea turtle nesting season tops record books

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

As sea turtle nesting season winds down to its official Oct. 31 conclusion, flipper tracks in the sand and nest markers will disappear from the island shore. Islander Photo: Mark Young

The 2013 sea turtle nesting season is proving to be a record year.

According to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox, 368 loggerhead and green sea turtle nests have been recorded this year on the island shore, surpassing the 2012 record of 365 as of Sept. 20.

The 15-year average prior to the 2012 season was 168 nests, 156 false crawls and about 9,000 hatchlings.

Those numbers were shattered in 2012 with 365 nests, 329 false crawls and 12,723 hatchlings.

The  number of nests was the last record to fall in the data AMITW has been recording for more than two decades. The 2012 record of 329 false crawls fell several weeks ago. It stands at 360 this year with more than a month remaining and some hatching yet to come.

The numbers can change, as hatches occur where what was thought to be a false crawl produces an uncounted nest, before the official end of nesting season on Oct. 31.

In 2012, the record numbers produced only 175 hatched nests, which would have been significantly higher had Tropical Storms Debby and Isaac not washed out an estimated 100 nests. With weather cooperating, AMITW has recorded a record 294 hatched nests thus far this season, with about 80 nests of hatchlings remaining in the sand.

Despite the weather hardships of the 2012 season, AMITW still managed to record what was then a record 12,723 hatchlings to the Gulf of Mexico. That record too has been shattered this year with 19,543 hatchlings to the sea thus far.

A record number of green turtle nests also have been recorded this year on the beaches.

Fox said she can account for about 4,000 loggerhead nests in the past 30 years. But the smaller green turtles have rarely frequented the island habitat. She first recorded a green turtle nest in 2000, then two in both 2011 and 2012, for a total of five nests. Now it has been doubled with a record five green turtle nests tallied this season.

AMITW listed 22 disorientations — nesting sea turtles and hatchlings drawn away from the Gulf by artificial lights — during the 2012 season, but only four have been recorded thus far this year.

All six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are considered threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Conservation of sea turtles is a primary concern on Anna Maria Island, where beach renourishment requires monitoring the habitat and maintaining nesting, hatching and disorientation data.

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