Turtle watch reviews record 2017 nesting data, trends

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At the peak of sea turtle nesting season, July 6, marked sea turtle nests share the beach near 70th Street in Holmes Beach. Islander File Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Caring for sea turtles and their habitat is an ongoing conservation effort that keeps going strong — even when sea turtle nesting wanes.

By the end of October, there were no turtle nests on the island shoreline.

It’s now time for Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, to reviewsdata and trends from the season to determine what could be improved next year.

“While this season was a record-breaker, there is always room for improvement,” Fox said Nov. 14.

AMITW seeks 
turtle-loving volunteers
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring is looking to expand its volunteer base for the 2018 sea turtle season.
Volunteers must be able to walk 2 miles of beach one day a week at sunrise during nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31, to document nesting and hatching activities.
Volunteers do not need to be year-round residents.
Training will begin in April 2018.
For more information, contact AMITW executive director Suzi Fox at suzilfox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

To do this, Fox and AMITW volunteers review data and discuss what they saw on the nesting beaches in 2017.

One trend was a drop in the high number of false crawls noted in 2016.

A false crawl occurs when a nesting female comes ashore, but retreats back to the Gulf of Mexico without laying a nest.

Fox said storms in 2016 created swales and escarpments on the beach that were a deterrence for nesting females.

“They had to find their way around the swales last year,” Fox said. “This year the beach was much more even.”

Fox said overall, the beaches are cleaner than they have ever been.

“People are getting it,” Fox said. “Less holes, less trash and good practices all around.”

Fox also said lighting practices have improved in the past 10 years.

Upon hatching, a sea turtle is guided by instincts to the reflections of the moon and stars on the Gulf of Mexico. In some cases, mature females and hatchlings can become disoriented by artificial lighting leading them away from the water.

According to Fox, some of the money provided from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf went to turtle-friendly light bulbs and fixtures all over the state.

“The change has taken place big-time on AMI, but also all over the Gulf Coast,” Fox said.

Even with regulations mandating lighting compliance, Fox said there were more problems with disorientations than usual in 2017.

She said this is concerning to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which receives AMITW data as part of its work to protect endangered species on renourished beaches.

Fox said, the number of disorientations was high for a year without a beach renourishment project.

She said representatives from the FWC will visit the island next year for a lighting inspection, and help determine what needs to be brought into compliance before season begins May 1.

Fox attributes increased public outreach to the group’s success in 2017.

She said AMITW printed more materials than previous years and distributed the handouts monthly to resorts and businesses.

Additionally, Fox said there were more people in attendance a Turtle Talks, a weekly informational session during sea turtle season.

“People are reading our materials, attending our talks and respecting our beaches better than ever,” Fox said. “Visitors and residents on our island have really stepped up for our turtles.”

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