Turtle Watch reacts to stormy conditions, ‘surge’ in nesting

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Three loggerhead sea turtle nests on the beach near 33rd Street in Holmes Beach remain in the face of high winds and rough waves June 7. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

With nearly twice as many nests as this time last year, female loggerhead sea turtles are nesting in bales on Anna Maria Island beaches.

As of June 7, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported 128 nests this season, which runs May-October.

The 2016 season was a record-breaker, with 435 reported nests at seasons end.

And this year could top last year, according to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox.

“We’ve had a surge in nesting all over the island,” Fox said June 6. “We are seeing more nesting in areas that used to not get as much.”

Sea turtles nest mostly at night on darker beaches, so increased efforts to keep the beach dark have aided in AMITW’s success.

Exterior lights visible from the shoreline must be low, shielded turtle-friendly lighting and indoor lights should be turned off or shielded by curtains or blinds after dark.

Fox works with code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to ensure possible lighting violations come into compliance.

AMITW used grant funds received as a result of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf to outfit waterfront businesses, resorts and residences with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved bulbs and fixtures.

“People used to just have to turn out their lights at night, which isn’t safe,” Fox said. “There are so many good, turtle-friendly options now that no one has to turn out another light.”

Additionally, AMITW provides turtle-safety information to the public at presentations and through printed materials, including door-hangers, booklets and stickers.

“We are all about spreading the word,” Fox said. “Education makes the difference, especially with the next generation.”

However, this logic also may apply to the next generation of sea turtles.

Sea turtles nest on or near the beach where they hatched. It is possible that increased conservation and outreach measures started in the early 1990s are paying off now, according to Fox.

“The girls that hatched on these beaches almost 30 years ago could be coming back to nest,” Fox said.

But, even with millennia of nesting experience programmed into their DNA, sea turtles sometimes can use help from people.

Storm events late in May and first week in June brought higher-than-usual tides and surf to island beaches.

When a storm causes increased rainfall and higher tides, sea turtle nests lining the beach can become “wash-outs,” which can decrease survival chances for the hatchlings inside the eggs, said Fox.

AMITW volunteers walk the beach each morning at sunrise looking for nests, which when found are staked off for monitoring and protection.

If a volunteer discovers a nest filling with water, it can be relocated to higher ground.

“According to my FWC permit, if the egg cavity is full of water, we can relocate it,” Fox said.

A nest discovered June 6 on the beach near 33rd Street in Holmes Beach was taking on water as the tide rose, prompting Fox and some volunteers to retrieve the eggs, dig and put them in a nest higher in the dunes.

The clutch contained 115 eggs.

“That’s 115 eggs that will hopefully grow into little hatchlings,” volunteer Anne Camp said June 6.

“With the way things are going, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season will bring,” Fox said.

For more information on the sea turtle habitat, or to report a sick, injured or dead sea turtle, contact Fox at suzilfox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

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