Sea turtle season has peaked on Anna Maria Island.
As of Aug. 27, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported 272 hatched nests on the island. Nesting has slowed to a trickle.
Turtle watch warns: ‘TVs could harm hatchlings’
As of Aug. 27, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported 54 disorientations, which can occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration. During an Aug. 24 lighting inspection, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox and Bradenton Beach code enforcement officer Gail Garneau observed light shining onto the beach, where large television screens were thought to be the cause. If you live on the beach and your TV is on after dark, “please, close your blinds,” Fox said. The TV glow is visible to the turtles and it could be “deadly for hatchlings.”
However, close to 180 marked nests are yet to hatch and an unknown number of unmarked nests may hold “surprise hatches,” according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox.
Sea turtle season runs May through October, with occasional late nests hatching after season ends. Nests must incubate 45-70 days.
During season, AMITW volunteers walk the beach each morning at sunrise looking for nests laid at night. When found, the nests are staked and marked for monitoring and protection.
Sometimes rain or other factors can lead to a missed nest, which is not discovered until after it hatches.
“People think that just because the nests on the beach by their homes have hatched, it’s OK to leave lights on at night again,” Fox said Aug. 23. “The thing is, there could still be surprise nests out there, waiting to hatch.”
During nesting season, exterior lights visible from the shoreline must be low and shielded with fixtures containing Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved bulbs. Interior lights visible from the shoreline should be turned off or blocked by blinds or curtains after dark.
After hatching, the turtles are drawn by their instincts to the Gulf of Mexico by the reflection of light on the water’s surface.
Disorientations occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration.
A hatched nest is indicated by an indentation in the ground surrounded by tiny tracks, usually leading to the water. However, if the tracks indicate the hatchlings went the wrong way, AMITW classifies this as a disorientation and investigates what might have caused it.
Fox works with code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to ensure lights are compliant and to notice people when their lights are out of compliance, so the problem can be corrected.
“Code officers in all three cities have their work cut out for them this year, but have jumped on board to help,” Fox said.
She recently noted that lights at beachfront properties have led to some disorientations, but code enforcement has been quick to remedy the issues within 24 hours.
Additionally, AMITW has been handing out “turtle eye” cards that contain a filter, allowing a person to view light sources visible to sea turtles.
Fox said the cards are available to people at no cost at the three island city halls and she plans to order 2,000 more viewers to distribute next year.
“These cards are great because they let people see what the turtle sees,” Fox said. “That way they know if a light needs to be changed to one that’s compliant.”
Fox said in addition to keeping lights compliant, people need to fill any holes dug on the beach by dusk.
While craters on the beach can be a problem for nesting turtles, they pose a bigger threat to hatchlings, which are small enough to become trapped.
Fox said she has been working with resorts and vacation property managers to ensure they educate guests about turtle-friendly lighting and beach practices.
Mark Davis, owner of the Harrington House Bed & Breakfast Inn in Holmes Beach, said Aug. 23 that he does his best to keep guests informed.
“We like to make it interesting for our guests,” Davis said. “We provide turtle watch handouts for them and keep up on the information ourselves, so we can talk with them about what’s happening with the turtles.”
Fox said it’s a “team effort,” and so far she is pleased with peoples’ efforts to keep the beach turtle-friendly this season.really good stuff happening for turtles on our beaches.”
Information about turtle-friendly lighting can be found on the FWC website at myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/sea-turtles/lighting/.
To report a disoriented hatchling, or a sick, injured or dead sea turtle, contact Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-778-5638.