A record-breaking sea turtle nesting season has led to flotillas of hatchlings emerging daily from nests on Anna Maria Island beaches.
As of Aug. 13, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported 165 hatched nests with about 11,745 hatchlings making their way to the Gulf of Mexico.
With each nest containing about 100 eggs, turtle watch volunteers are staying busy collecting data from the hatched nests.
Volunteers with AMITW walk the beach each morning just after sunrise to search for tracks left the night before by nesting female sea turtles or hatchlings.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, when a nest is determined hatched, AMITW volunteers must wait 72 hours to excavate or dig into the nest to determine how many eggs hatched, didn’t hatch, or if there are live hatchlings remaining in the nest.
Turtle watch then ensures the remaining hatchlings make their way to the Gulf.
Excavations usually take place around sunrise or sunset, when the risk of dehydration or predation is lower for any hatchlings they may be discovered in the nest.
The public is invited to observe excavations and ask the volunteers questions about their work with sea turtles.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to see what we do and learn about the turtles,” Annie Camp, AMITW section 6 coordinator said Aug. 9.
Since the beginning of August, the moon has been bright and low over the Gulf, attracting hatchling sea turtles to their home in the water, according to Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director.
After nesting or hatching, adult and hatchling sea turtles are drawn by their instincts to the Gulf of Mexico by the reflection of light on the water’s surface.
Disorientations can occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration.
Fox is concerned that when the moon’s light starts to wane toward the end of the month, hatchlings may disorient away from the water.
“As soon as that moon is gone, they may head inland, because the brightest light visible from the shoreline will be upland,” Fox said Aug. 7.
Fox works with code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to ensure beachfront lighting is turtle-friendly and beach furniture is removed at the end of the day.
Fox said people have been doing a great job keeping the beach clean and complying with lighting regulations.
“The beach has been looking great,” Fox said. “This month is peak hatchling season. So, now is the most important time to make sure you’re beachfront lights are compliant and beach trash is picked up.”
For more information about AMITW, contact executive director Suzi Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-778-5638.
Sea turtle disorientation rate drops in Holmes Beach
With 477 nests as of Aug. 13, Holmes Beach has the highest number of sea turtle nests on Anna Maria Island.
More nests means more hatchlings, and Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox was concerned with the rising number of disorientations as nests started hatching in Holmes Beach in July.
Fox has been working with Holmes Beach code enforcement to bring lights into compliance with sea turtle regulations and inform people of turtle-friendly practices.
As of Aug. 6, no new disorientations — which typically occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water — were reported by turtle watch in Holmes Beach.
“We are very happy that no new disorientations have been reported in Holmes Beach,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said Aug. 8. “We are working with turtle watch to ensure everyone is in compliance with lighting and knows to remove beach furniture at the end of the day.”