AMITW winds down, celebrates record sea turtle season

With only three un-hatched nests remaining on Anna Maria Island, volunteers with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring can rest easy after a record-breaking year that saw both triumph and tragedy.

Beach walkers and section coordinators made 691 reports of activity, including nests and false crawls, according to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox at an Oct. 16 year-end gathering at Manatee Sports Grill, 7423 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

“That’s like two or three years worth of work in one year,” said Fox. “We couldn’t do it without our walkers. We went over our statistics and we had a huge amount of nesting. It was an amazing year.”

Fox said the combination of Tropical Storm Debby in June, and Isaac in August left a number of days where volunteers were unable to walk the beach.

As a result, Fox said, “We had 75 unverified nests and, on the bay side, a lot of nests were up in the bushes and difficult to verify.”

There were more than 360 nests this year, an all time Anna Maria Island record. TS Debby brought bad news initially, with an estimated 100 destroyed nests.

That number dropped over the ensuing weeks to about 60, but the year-end totals turned dire. Fox’s updated numbers are 156 nests of the 179 pre-Debby nests were lost to storm surge.

But nesting resumed following the storm in dramatic fashion.

AMITW record keeper Pete Gross said in the weeks following Debby, up to eight nests a day were being recorded.

The surviving nests through the season produced 12,481 hatchlings, but Fox said the number is likely much higher when taking into account the number of unverified nests.

“If you figure we had 75 unverified nests we didn’t get numbers for, we could have had a killer number of hatchlings to the sea,” she said.

AMITW volunteers didn’t get much rest between nesting and hatching. Gross said beginning on July 28 to mid-September — about 54 straight days — “We averaged 225 hatchlings per day.”

Shorebird nesting also suffered from the two storms. AMITW’s Glenn Wiseman said skimmer nests were wiped out from heavy rains before Debby arrived, but “they re-nested and then Debby wiped them out again,” he said. “The skimmers tried one more time, but didn’t do well.”

Wiseman said the more populated species, such as terns and gulls, fared much better, and only “one snowy plover had two chicks.”

On a positive note, Wiseman said the large amount of sand deposited on the north end of the island from Debby will benefit shorebird nesting in the future.

Fox said AMITW has overcome a lot of lighting problems this year, which is the primary cause for disorientation events, which were recorded as being more than 20 this season.

Disorientations occur when either the nesting sea turtle or hatchlings head landward, toward artificial lights rather than to the reflection on the water.

“We had $40,000 in lighting money obtained from grants that we spread out to 10 different resorts,” she said. “Next year, if my grants go through, we’ll have an additional $10,000 to work on areas where we are still having some lighting issues.”

Fox said the money would be used for smaller buildings, like single-family homes, “to give them a light fixture and a sea turtle-friendly bulb.”

Manatee County also has agreed to fund Fox’s request to place an informational kiosk or poster wall at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach to help educate the public about sea turtle nesting on the island.

One of the remaining three nests on the island is overdue, said Fox. The other two are expected to hatch sometime after nesting season officially ends Oct. 31.

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