AMITW outreach thrives despite sea turtle season ending

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Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, speaks to students during an upper-school marine science club meeting at Saint Stephens Episcopal School, 315 41st St. W., Bradenton. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Sea turtle season on Anna Maria Island ended Oct. 31, but educational outreach is year-round for Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

A record-breaking number of loggerhead sea turtle nests were spotted on island beaches this season and AMITW executive director Suzi Fox says public awareness is one of the reasons nesting numbers increased.

Educating children in Manatee County is a focal point of AMITW outreach, according to Fox.

Throughout the school year, Fox and AMITW volunteers work with students at Anna Maria Elementary School. AME and AMITW are longtime partners.

They teach students about sea turtles and nesting shorebirds. Students are enlisted for artwork that is used for printed materials, including AMITW notecards, with money from the sales going to the school.

Additionally, art produced by the students will be used for “Keep Off the Dunes” signs at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

“It’s a great way for the kids to express themselves,” Fox said. “They get to learn about ecology, have fun and help out the school and turtle watch.”

This year, turtle watch is taking its educational program to town.

Fox spoke Nov. 2 to upper-school students in the marine science club at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School in Bradenton about AMITW.

According to Christiane Skey, an upper school science teacher and co-sponsor of the club, students will create a plan to work on projects, including beach cleanups and shorebird stewarding.

“We think what they do is wonderful and we can’t wait to work with them,” Skey said of AMITW. “We look for rewarding citizen science opportunities for the students and this fits right in.”

Fox also said she is meeting with her volunteers for a “think tank” ­on presentations and materials.

Throughout the year, AMITW provides turtle-safety information to the public through door-hangers, booklets and stickers.

The materials especially provide beachfront residents and visitors on the importance of turtle-friendly lighting and practices during sea turtle nesting and hatching season — May 1-Oct. 31.

As part of its outreach, AMITW is distributing “Turtle SafeLight” cards with a small, blue filter that, when held up to a light-source, allows a person to see what lights are visible to sea turtles.

Fox said the cards are free and available at the three island city halls and at AMITW events.

“They aren’t purely scientific,” Fox said. “But, they are fun for people to use and do help us to see if a light is in compliance.”

Turtle watch will start up its free, informational “Turtle Talks” in early 2018 at the Waterline Marina Resort and Beach Club in Holmes Beach.

“It’s nice to show the winter people everything we do in the summer,” Fox said. “But, we truly do work year-round to protect our turtles.”

For more information about AMITW, contact Fox at suzilfox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

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