Like a well-trained regiment, the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring team is ready for May-October sea turtle nesting season.
And, so are area residents and visitors.
They’re looking forward signs of nesting.
Island beaches are a hot spot for female sea turtles — mostly loggerheads — to lay their nests.
“I think people that choose Anna Maria Island as a home or a vacation spot are wildlife lovers and seekers,” AMITW executive director Suzi Fox said.
As of May 13, only one nest has been laid and it is at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. It was spotted by AMITW volunteers Elsa Rohow and Tammy Rosenfeld.
Fox said some female loggerheads are “checking out the beach,” but the sand may still feel cool.
Also as of May 13, eight false crawls were spotted on island beaches.
A false crawl occurs when a female turtle leaves the water to nest, but returns to the Gulf without laying her eggs. False crawls do not always occur because the sea turtle was distracted or scared away. The number of false crawls usually is about the same as the number of nests by the end of nesting season, according to Fox.
Each of the nearly 100 turtle watch volunteers is assigned a turn walking a 1-mile stretch of beach just after sunrise, looking for the telltale tracks indicating newly laid sea turtle nests or hatched nests.
Once spotted, nests are marked with tape and stakes and observed for data and protection.
Bradenton resident Catherine Lafuente, who previously lived beachfront on Longboat Key, said she enjoyed seeing the volunteers on their daily walks on Longboat and now appreciates seeing the nesting activity on Anna Maria Island.
“When we lived on Longboat, we saw what the volunteers were doing and appreciated it,” Lafuente said. “We don’t live on the island, but it’s just a short trek to experience something so special.”
This year, there are 24 new walkers, the most Fox said she’s trained in one season.
Kathy Doddridge, AMITW volunteer coordinator for the beach section between 26th Street North and Cortez Road in Bradenton Beach, said new volunteers Dixie Lampers and Carl Jelovich spotted the first false crawl in that section.
“They are new walkers so imagine their excitement when they saw the tracks in the sand!” Doddridge said. “Last year, our first false crawl in this section was May 12 so the girls are right on time. It is great to start another turtle season!”
Anne Camp, AMITW volunteer coordinator for the section of beach from the Manatee Public Beach to 26th Street in Holmes Beach, says she’s thrilled to see most of her 2017 volunteers walking this season, and to guide the new ones.
“We learn in our training what to look for and what nests look like, but the excitement when one sees their first nest is indescribable,” Camp said.
New volunteer walker Barbara Riskay said she’s anxious to spot her first nest. “I’ve been studying lots of pictures, but it’s not like the real thing,” Riskay said. “I can’t wait.”
For more information on nesting season, contact Fox at email@example.com or 941-778-5638.
Visit myfwc.com/seaturtle and click on “Sea Turtles and Lights” or “Wildlife Friendly Lighting” for more information on keeping beaches safe for sea turtles.
To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.