Walkers ready for morning turtle patrols
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox, right, distributes nesting season supplies to coordinators during an April 22 meeting at Holmes Beach City Hall. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff
Cell phone? Check.
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch walkers begin patrolling the beach May 1, the official start of the sea turtle nesting season in Florida.
Walkers, at the start of the season, will be looking for signs that a female sea turtle crawled ashore to nest or attempted to nest.
Later, walkers also will look for signs that hatchlings emerged from nests and crawled to the Gulf of Mexico, or, on a small section on the northeast side of the Island, to the bay.
The walkers assembled with their section coordinators and AMITW executive director Suzi Fox for a 2010 nesting season orientation meeting April 22 — Earth Day — at Holmes Beach City Hall.
With most of the attendees veteran walkers and coordinators, the meeting took less than an hour — about 40 minutes for Fox to discuss AMITW’s mission and the rules set forth in federal and state guidelines and another 15 minutes for walkers to check in with their section coordinators and collect supplies.
Walkers left with the flags they will use to mark turtle nests, as well as a recommendation from Fox to be prepared on their designated patrol days with sunscreen, a cell phone and a notebook.
“We’ve always thought this was neat,” said veteran walker Howard Rosenbecker of Bradenton, who shares his Saturday morning patrol duty with wife Sara.
Coordinators, who supervise volunteers and oversee data collection for nine sections on the Island, also left with supplies — notebooks with blank data sheets, tape measures, gloves and buckets decorated by fourth- and fifth-grade students at Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School, where AMITW walker Marie Masferrer is a library media specialist.
“Suzi got me hooked,” said Masferrer, who has shared her enthusiasm for turtle watch and nesting sea turtles with Orange Ridge students.
In addition to decorating the coordinator buckets, which are used to carry supplies but also, in an emergency, to collect disoriented hatchling turtles, the students, working with Masferrer and an Orange Ridge art teacher, will create educational AMITW signs to be posted at beach accesses and other locations on the Island.
Nesting season, the Orange Ridge students are learning and walkers are well aware, runs from May 1 through October on Florida beaches.
The turtles most common to Anna Maria Island are loggerheads. The female loggerhead crawls ashore two or more times a season to lay 100-150 white, golf ball-sized eggs in a deep cavity she digs in the sand with her flippers. After filling the nest she crawls back to the sea.
The eggs incubate for about eight weeks, when the hatchlings emerge and scamper toward the ocean, facing a horde of predators. Few survive their first year.
AMITW collects data on nesting, as do a number of other groups around the state, which is used by government agencies to set policy and decide projects.
Fox, last week, reminded walkers of their official role.
But she also encouraged them to “have a good time out there.”
“When we are on that beach in the morning, it’s a gift,” she said.
’Tis the season — for turtle nesting
Volunteers for turtle nesting patrol got their working papers last week.
This week, and over the next month, residents in the three Island cities will get their guides for turtle nesting season, which begins May 1 and continues through Oct. 31.
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox said she plans to make some door-to-door calls — especially to beach resorts — to distribute nesting season pamphlets and other materials.
Code enforcement officers on the Island also are readying for the nesting season, as are state wildlife officials.
The turtle protectors and monitors offer a do and don’t list:
• Remain quiet and observe from a distance if you encounter a nesting turtle or emerging nest.
• Shield or turn off outdoor lights visible on the beach from May through October.
• Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water.
• Fill in holes on the beach that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water and tide line.
• Place trash in its proper place.
• Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings leaving nests, make noise or shine light at turtles.
• Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged.
• Use fireworks or leave trash on the beach.