Volunteers on watch, ready to walk

With Gulf of Mexico temperatures in the upper 70s, the crew that monitors sea turtle nesting on Anna Maria Island is on watch.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring held its annual orientation meeting April 19 at Holmes Beach City Hall, where the more than 70 volunteers involved in the non-profit program picked up T-shirts, tools and instructions.

The 2011 nesting season officially begins May 1, but already turtles are nesting on the Atlantic coast. And, said AMITW executive director Suzi Fox, when the Gulf temperature reaches 80, female loggerheads soon begin to crawl ashore to nest.

The earliest first nest recorded on the Island was laid on April 29 in 1997. Last year’s first nest was recorded on May 23.

This season, AMITW has a seasoned volunteer team, with all veteran walkers and coordinators returning to monitor sections of the shore.

“They are well-trained, dedicated people,” Fox said of the crew. “The best people I know.”

The volunteers’ role is to collect data on turtle nesting from May through October. Volunteers, assigned a day of the week and a section of the beach, walk at about dawn looking for signs of activity — that a female turtle has crawled ashore in the early part of the season and that hatchlings have crawled to the Gulf in later in the cycle.

Numerous details are recorded about nests and crawls — dates, dimensions, temperatures, locations — which various local, state and federal governments use to assess the loggerhead population, renourishment efforts and the impact of coastal development.

AMITW data is sent to Manatee County, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We need to be extremely accurate,” said Fox, noting that some form of data collection has taken place during turtle nesting seasons since 1982.

As they did last year, walkers on the beach between Pine Avenue and Bean Point in Anna Maria will monitor nesting shorebirds. Walkers also will monitor bird nesting in a small section of Bradenton Beach.

“The birds are already on the beach,” Fox said. “The least terns, the black skimmers — more are coming every day.”

Nesting by the numbers
Read The Islander each week to follow developments during turtle-nesting season.
Number of nests: 0
Number of hatched nests: 0
Number of hatchlings: 0
Source: AMITW

FWC examining dead turtle
A dead green turtle was found in a Key Royale canal April 19.

An Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteer collected details about the turtle, which was missing its head.

The information will be reviewed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said AMITW executive director Suzi Fox.

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