“You all are the first responders, the ambassadors,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said April 11 to more than 80 AMITW volunteers.
The group was gathered at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach for “Turtle Watch Spring Training,” a meeting led by Fox to prepare new volunteers and update veterans on new policies for the 2017 nesting season.
During sea turtle nesting and hatchling season, which runs May 1-Oct. 31, AMITW volunteers walk a designated 1-mile stretch of beach just after sunrise, looking for signs of nesting activity the night before and, later in the season, for hatchlings to emerge.
When nests are discovered, they are staked for protection and monitored for data which goes to Manatee County and the state to track population and behavior trends.
Fox kicked off the April 11 meeting and said volunteers would begin walking the beach April 15. She said the warmer winter may mean early nesting.
“It’s all about temperature,” Fox said. “It just depends on how warm the water is.”
Fox said there are some changes to the morning walk protocol this season.
She said nests will be marked with three stakes instead of four and the stakes will be longer. Longer stakes are easier to locate and fewer stakes mean not as many to recover after a storm event, according to Fox.
Fox also said volunteers are not to deal with possible code violations including unattended items or large holes on the beach. She said walkers should let her know so she can contact code enforcement officers to deal with the matter.
Nesting sea turtles can become entangled in trash left on the beach or trapped under beach furniture and can fall into large holes. Adult female sea turtles only come ashore to nest then must return quickly to the water. Any impedance could be deadly.
In the past, volunteers have taken time out of their morning survey walks to deal with issues that are the responsibility of city governments, according to Fox.
“No more code work, nothing,” Fox said. “We are out there to look for nests, 100 percent.”
She said 99 percent of the nests on the island are made by loggerhead sea turtles. However, occasionally other species, including green turtles, nest on island beaches.
“After your first year, I expect you to know which species make which tracks, even if they are mostly loggerheads,” Fox told volunteers. “We do sometimes get green turtles here.”
Additionally, Fox said volunteers are no longer required to verify nests, in most cases. Volunteers verify possible nests by digging into them to make sure there are eggs, before staking off the area. She said if this season is comparable to the 2016 nesting season, there will be a lot of nests and verifying obvious nests would be a waste of time.
“If you approach an area and can tell it’s definitely a nest, you don’t need to verify it,” Fox said. “We are going to have a lot of nests this year and need to focus on locating them.”
Following the April 11 meeting, AMITW volunteer Bev Lesnick said she can’t wait to get started. Last season, her first as a volunteer, Lesnick saw a female loggerhead sea turtle nesting on a beach at sunrise, a rare experience.
“Last year was truly amazing,” Lesnick said. “I can’t wait to see what this year holds.”
For more information about AMITW, or to report a sick, injured or dead sea turtle, contact Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-778-5638.