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Date of Issue: June 30, 2010

Holiday weekend brings wildlife worries

Ashley Northfleet knows that nesting sea turtles tend to be up and about after dark.

“They go to bed after me. My bedtime is 8 o’clock,” says the 4-year-old from Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.

Often at night, the turtles have the beach to themselves, but over the July 4 weekend holiday revelers also will be up and about on the beach after dark.

“People mistakenly walk into the staked-off nesting areas we have for birds and turtles,” says Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch. “It’s dark and there are a lot of people. Everyone needs to acclimate themselves where the nests are so they don’t mistakenly run over them.”

Fox talks often about sharing the beaches, especially during the morning tours she conducts to turtle and bird nesting sites on the Island.

On a recent tour, Ashley heard about the summer nesting season and wildlife habits and how the summer tourist season and beachgoers’ habits can impact turtles and shorebirds.

Ashley attended the tour with her sister and parents. They were visiting the Island to spend time with Fox, whom Ashley knows as “Nana Suzi.”

“Turtles need to be protected by us,” Ashley says she learned on the tour.

She also learned about leaving a clean beach.

“Pick up every bit of trash at night and take it home with you,” Fox advises. “Don’t leave it until morning. Even if it’s your own land, don’t leave trash out overnight.

Fox repeats the cautions on the tours, and especially emphasizes the do’s and don’ts before major weekends, such as this coming July 4 holiday.

Thousands will crowd the Island for beach days, a parade and three nights of fireworks.

“Turtle Watch is supporting and endorsing the Island professional fireworks shows that the Chiles Group is putting on at their three locations,” Fox says. “They are very well organized, orchestrated and safe, and they clean up after themselves. People can just sit back and enjoy the evening.”

Still, AMITW is preparing for problems on the beach, especially with individuals setting off illegal fireworks.

“The flash and sound of fireworks are not kind to turtles or shorebirds, especially when they are nesting,” Fox says. “The real problems are people getting too close to the birds’ nesting areas and trash on the beach. The Gulf of Mexico and the shores of Anna Maria Island are home and feeding grounds for both of these animals. The only time either species reproduce is right now. Baby chicks are being born right now.”

To protect nesting birds, AMITW is working with other organizations to post volunteer beach stewards, especially on the north end of the Island.

AMITW walkers also will be collecting trash — from discarded soda bottles to spent bottle rockets — as well as handing out bags for others to collect trash.

Additionally, AMITW is supporting the business community in Anna Maria, which, through the North End Merchants Organization, has organized a cleanup effort on the beach at 7:15 a.m. July 5.

“Everyone should do what they can to ensure this hatching season to be the best for our little shorebird chicks and sea turtle hatchings,” Fox says. “It’s always a scary thing to find trash on the beach or in the water, especially fireworks and balloons. The shoreline is like a restaurant for birds and anything laying in the rack line or trash looks like food to them and can be very, very harmful.”

On call

To reach Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, call the hotline at 941-778 5638.

Wildlife Inc. in Bradenton Beach also responds to wildlife emergencies. Call 941-778-6324.

For a police, medical or fire emergency, call 911.