Tropical Storm Emily staged a sneak attack from the Gulf of Mexico, forming just offshore and making landfall at about 10:45 a.m. July 31 on Anna Maria Island.
As the storm pushed ashore and northeast across Florida, downpours, high winds and rough surf pounded the island’s beaches — and washed over some sea turtle nests.
Standing water can flood sea turtle nests, drowning the hatchlings inside the water-permeable eggs.
However, Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said she was pleased to find many of the nests remain viable — likely to hatch.
“There is a lot of nesting in the center and high zones of the beach, so that is good,” Fox said.
AMITW counted 376 unhatched nests, many of which are in the dunes above the high tide line, before Emily. Those nests should be unaffected by the storm, according to Fox.
“There will be a little drop in the hatch rate, but we’re good with that,” Fox said Aug. 1.
Aug. 1, the morning after Emily passed over the island, AMITW volunteers walking the beach near 33rd Street in Holmes Beach found tracks indicating a nest in the dunes had hatched. Additionally, Fox said, “Quite a few nests hatched the night before the storm.”
Fox was pleased to find most of the stakes used to mark the nests remained in place and there were nests that had not been touched by the higher-than-usual tide.
Fox said AMITW estimated it lost stakes for 28 nests, most of which were located at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. She said that part of the island sustained the highest wind gusts, some up to 45 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
She said the Manatee County beach tractor driver has been instructed to avoid certain areas where nests could be submerged under the sand without markers. The markers will not be replaced, mostly because doing so could damage the eggs in the clutches.
Additionally, Fox said there were no reports of sea turtle eggs, which look like ping-pong balls, rolling in the surf.
“This important piece of info tells me the eggs are still in the ground unmarked,” Fox wrote in an Aug. 1 email.
As of Aug. 6, AMITW reported 469 nests had been laid since May 12 — the most documented sea turtle nests on the island since the group started collecting data in 1997.
Nests are due to hatch through the last week in October, so it is important for people to adhere to regulations regarding turtle-friendly lighting by keeping lights visible from the shoreline low and shielded, said Fox.
“Losing turtles to nature is just the way it goes, but losing turtles because people aren’t careful about lights is human intervention,” Fox said. “And that is just wrong.”
For more information about sea turtles, contact Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-778-5638.
Turtle watch: ‘Flashlights aren’t the problem’
Lights visible to sea turtles — nesting and hatching — are a problem. It is potentially life-threatening for the turtles.
As nesting season peaks, turtle watch executive director Suzi Fox said people using flashlights to navigate the beach at night are OK.
Fox said red LED flashlights are best, but never shine any light on wildlife.
She encourages families to enjoy the beach after dark, but home lighting remains a problem.
After nesting or hatching, adult sea turtles and their hatchlings are drawn by their instincts to the Gulf of Mexico by the reflection of the moon and stars on the water’s surface. Disorientations can occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration.
Fox advises people in beachfront accommodations turn off outside lights and shut curtains and blinds after dark. Evening inspections indicate chandelier lighting over dining tables are glaring through windows and sliding doors that face the beach. The simple solution is to turn off the chandelier or shut the blinds.
“On Anna Maria Island, we have families out after dark having fun, and we don’t want to put a damper on that,” Fox said Aug. 1. “Just use good judgment.”