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Date of Issue: June 10, 2009

Girl Scouts practice turtle law

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Commissioners for an hour - Sarah Quattromani, Simone Hostetler, Rebecca Hines, Jewel Martinez and Franceska Akel - with Mayor Fran Barford.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford came across a “crazy turtle crawl” while walking on the beach June 1.

The crawl indicated that an adult female loggerhead emerged from the Gulf, crawled east, went under a tent left overnight on the sand, and then turned to travel several blocks south before returning to the water.

Later that day, Barford explored sea turtle protection at the dais in the city hall commission chambers, but not with her regular lineup of commissioners.

Instead, Barford sat with members of Girl Scout Troop 590 to discuss enforcement of the city’s turtle protection ordinance.

She found the youngsters eager to protect the marine animals.

“The law is the law,” said Rebecca Hines, scout and mock commissioner.

The scouts participated in the mock commission meeting after taking a tour of city hall, including a visit with administrative assistant Annmarie Thorpe, who talked about the “happy calls, sad calls and mad calls” she receives, and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Gary Sellitto, who found an audience eager to learn about handcuffs.

Walking past the city clerk’s office, Barford told the scouts, “When you are in government, you have to do everything right … and public.”

Barford then led the group into the commission chambers, where three troop members took the roles of concerned citizens and five scouts took roles as commissioners.

Barford led the meeting, hoping to encourage some of Anna Maria Island’s non-voting citizens to someday run for office.

“I would like every one of you to consider running for office someday,” the mayor said, after fielding questions from one girl about what the commissioners “did to get elected” and from another about who she ran against to get into office.

The mayor also wanted to explore with the girls the city’s rules for protecting sea turtles. Each year, from May through October, female loggerhead turtles lumber ashore to leave eggs in a nest. Beginning in mid-summer, hatchling turtles emerge from the nests and crawl to the Gulf.

Island youth get some tutoring on turtle protection from Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox and AMITW volunteers.

AMITW representatives go into classrooms to talk about endangered species and the efforts to keep lights shielded from the beaches to prevent turtle disorientations and to keep obstacles off the beaches to prevent turtles from becoming trapped.

“We play a game, discuss what they can do to help,” Fox said, adding that she also talks with students about shorebirds and efforts to protect threatened species.

The Girl Scouts seemed familiar with the reasons for turtle protection, if not the details of Anna Maria’s ordinance.

“We have a quorum,” Barford said, opening the meeting and asking all to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

She then asked if members of the public wanted to address the commission.

“Why do I need special lights?” said Alexia Yavalar in her role as a property owner who is building a new waterfront home.

Because, said Rebecca Hines, the turtles crawl toward light, and bright lights on homes can disorient them.

The turtles, said Franceska Akel “are really beautiful creatures” and must be protected.

Girl Scout Amanda Bosch, pretending to be an annoyed beachgoer, next stepped to the podium to ask why city officials removed the furniture she left overnight on the beach.

“If you were a turtle,” said Simone Hostetler, “you wouldn’t want to get trapped.”

“I’d give you advice not to leave anything on the beach,” Rebecca said.

Seated in the audience, troop leader Liza Morrow and Girl Scout Julia Ware, smiled at the exchange.

Morrow said the girls were earning their community service badges.

And at least one, Rebecca, was preparing to someday run for office.