Thousands of young sea turtles have made it into the Gulf of Mexico this nesting season, but as more nests begin to hatch, dangers for the hatchlings mount.
“August is the month of disorientation. Thirty nests have hatched and we have a whole bunch of nests to go,” said Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.
Fox said there have been more disorientations with nesting turtles and their hatchlings this year than last, but not more than expected following a beach renourishment.
“The profile of the beach has changed. Now sand is high, but people’s houses are in the same place,” she said.
Lights shining from beachside windows that were not visible last year are more likely to be visible from the higher horizon line created by the renourished sand on the beach.
Fox said August is the most difficult month for AMITW volunteers, who take on double-duty as hatchlings begin to “boil,” or crawl up from the nest, which often is found to be about a foot or more in depth. In addition to morning walks looking for new and hatched nests, volunteers walk the beaches at night in search of problematic lights and nest harassment.
AMITW volunteers take photographs and report possible light violations to the local code enforcement officers. Volunteers also can provide turtle-friendly light bulbs and informational material.
Fox said she also receives late-night phone calls, including a recent call at 2 a.m. alerting her of a group of teenagers harassing hatchlings.
“They had flashlights and led them all over the beach in circles with the lights,” Fox said. “They basically killed those 100 hatchlings. You can never point a light at a hatchling.”
Hatchlings demonstrate two important bursts of energy following their emergence, according to Fox. The hatchlings have about 20 minutes of energy they use to crawl out of the nest and into the water.
They use a second burst of energy to swim to the sargassum, a seagrass habitat floating offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. The small hatchlings feed and gain strength in the sargassum.
“It’s another case of human intervention,” she said.
The AMITW can provide business and property owners with information on obtaining low-cost turtle-friendly lights.
For more information, call Fox at 941-778-5638.