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Date of Issue: September 24, 2008

Egmont awaits hatching of season's last turtle nests

Two out of the season’s 52 sea turtle nests remain to hatch on Egmont Key.

“We’re hoping for hatchlings,” said Tom Watson, the assistant manager of the state park to the north of Anna Maria Island at the junction between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The park, accessible by private boat or commercial ferry, is a wildlife refuge, a sanctuary to nesting birds and sea turtles and other animals, including gopher tortoises and green anoles.

Watson, other park staff and volunteers want to see hatchlings emerge from the two remaining loggerhead turtle nests on Egmont Key, but they remain wary.

Hurricane Gustav, followed by Hurricane Ike, washed out many nests on the island.

“The storm pretty much devastated half of them,” Watson said last week. Days had passed since Ike moved passed, but sections of Egmont Key remained under water. “What Gustav didn’t destroy, Ike finished.”

Watson said the storms washed over or washed out 22 nests.

“The others did hatch, before the combination punch,” he said.

“We’ve still got our fingers crossed that one or two survived,” Watson continued “The nests are not supposed to hatch until October. “We may get lucky. We’re just hoping is all.”

Turtle monitoring duties on Egmont Key are shared by state park staff, interns from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and volunteers, who also help monitor bird populations and clean up litter.

Nesting mostly takes place on the western side of Egmont, but this year turtles also nested on the east shore.

While access to Egmont Key, which is partially closed to the public, generally is limited to boaters or those with passage on a ferry from Fort DeSoto Park, hundreds of people will visit the island Nov. 8-9 during an annual celebration presented by the Egmont Key Alliance.

Discover Egmont Key will involve a Civil War reenactment and a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Egmont lighthouse.

Shuttle boats will leave Fort Desoto Park - located in Tierra Verda on the north side of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on the route to St. Pete Beach - on a regular schedule from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information and advance tickets, go to www.egmontkey.info.