As sea turtle nesting season peaks, the curious are invited to see a nest firsthand and learn how volunteers mark the spot.
Longtime Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers Glenn and Claudia Wiseman conduct tours for anyone interested in learning how volunteers do what they do and about the sea turtles nesting on Anna Maria Island.
“We’ve had so many people calling about the tours I’ve had to turn some down, or schedule them for different days,” said Claudia Wiseman.
The Wisemans, both retired teachers, field questions while they locate and mark off nests many mornings.
After making reservations, tourgoers meet beachside at 7 a.m. and are taken to a fresh sea turtle nesting site, identified by an AMITW volunteer monitoring that section of beach just after sunrise.
A July 2 tour brought the group to a nest laid on Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.
Claudia kicked the talk off, showing the crawl marks made by the sea turtle as it exited and re-entered the Gulf of Mexico. The crawl marks are rhythmic grooves in the sand made by a turtle’s flippers as it scoots up and down the beach.
The Wisemans explained how AMITW volunteers identify the center of the nest and then they began to dig to locate the eggs in the nearly 3-foot in diameter escarpment made as the turtle dug its hole, and reburied its precious deposit.
The eggs typically are buried 18 inches deep and there is an average 80-100 eggs per clutch, or nest. According to Glenn Wiseman, the east coast of Florida is one of the most popular sea turtle nesting grounds in the world.
At the nesting site, those on the tour got a peak at the eggs nestled in the sand before they were reburied.
Soliciting help from the audience, Glenn Wiseman hammered stakes around the nest. Claudia Wiseman, again with help from a tour member, tied a bright pink ribbon around the stakes.
She marked the stakes with the nest and section number, omitting the dates. She told the tour group that AMITW no longer dates the nests. Beachgoers in previous years would camp out and wait for the hatchlings to “boil out of the nest,” or emerge from the sand, and head to the water.
Not every nest-watcher proved problematic, but a few flashlights and human interventions proved to be not in the best interest of the turtles or conservation efforts.
The tour group of 20 huddled around the new nest attracted beach walkers, growing the crowd.
One person who joined the tour at the onset began explaining AMITW’s work and shared some turtle facts with a beach walker who joined the crowd.
That’s just the type of interaction AMITW hopes to come from the tours.
“Primarily what we like to do is education versus the monitoring,” Claudia Wiseman said as she watched the rookie turtle expert talk with the beach walker. “We used to police the beaches during turtle season, but now we educate.”
She said the education efforts have received a better response and promotes stewardship.
Island turtle tours will continue throughout July. The frequency of nests declines as the season continues, making a daily nesting demonstration more difficult.
Later in the summer, AMITW’s team will transition into conducting tours to hatched nests, where the volunteers will excavate the nests and count the hatched or unhatched eggs.
Sea turtle walks, talks on AMI, LBK
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring is offering tours of nesting areas on island beaches.
AMITW tours are free, but require a reservation. To schedule a tour with AMITW, call Claudia Wiseman at 248-982-5600.
Tours are offered daily, but limited to 25 people. AMITW tours are led by trained volunteers.
Mote Marine Laboratory offers tours on Longboat Key. The stroll on the beach is free and led by Mote-trained volunteers.
All ages are welcome but an adult must accompany children. LBK’s turtle walks are at 6:45 a.m. Saturdays in July. Reservations are not required.
Participants in the Mote Marine tour meet at the public beach access at 4795 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key. Parking is available at the beach access.