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Date of Issue: April 29, 2009

Turtle patrol registered, ready

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A loggerhead turtle lingers offshore of Anna Maria Island waiting for the right time and temperature before nesting. Islander Photo: Courtesy Ted Dorenkamp.
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JVolunteers for Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch register for the 2009 nesting season. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers registered for duty last week.

And this week the volunteers put on their sandals, flip- flops and Crocs and begin their morning walks looking for signs of nesting turtles on Anna Maria Island beaches.

In about six to eight weeks, the volunteers then also look for signs that hatchling sea turtles have crawled across the sand to take their first swim in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sea turtle nesting season officially begins May 1 on the Florida Gulf Coast.

On April 23, AMITW volunteers gathered at Holmes Beach City Hall for an annual orientation meeting and to sign up to walk a section of beach. The volunteers often work in pairs, generally assigned to walk about a mile of beach once a week looking for tracks and other signs of nesting activity.

The walkers also will look for signs of an aborted nesting attempt or a turtle disorientation.

The orientation was part motivational workshop and part educational forum led by Suzi Fox, AMITW’s executive director and the primary permit holder with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s sea turtle nesting program.

Fox characterized the program as a “family reunion” and a lot of new members of the family turned out to register. There were more potential volunteers than walking assignments.

“Are you ready for the turtles?” she asked the crowd in the city commission chambers.

“Yes,” the volunteers collectively called back.

Fox, who has been monitoring the beach since April 1, said when the local Gulf water temperature reaches 80 degrees, “that’s when our girls come in.”

The temperature last Thursday was “up to 74,” she said.

Fox reviewed a list of equipment the walkers should bring on their beach patrols — a cell phone to call in a report, paper and pen for any note-taking, flags to mark a crawl or nest and a bag to collect litter.

She also reviewed lists of do this and don’t do that on the beach, such as do make the walk promptly at sunrise, and do not make the walk during a thunderstorm.

AMITW has collected data on nesting sea turtles since 1982, providing information used to track the status of the endangered animals, as well as chart the impact of changes on the coast. Additional groups around the state provide data to create a composite picture of activity on the coasts — information used by local and county governments, the FWC and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as well as federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Last year, AMITW reported that 10,074 hatchlings emerged from nests on the Island.