Turtle watch request: Wish upon a star, not a lantern

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Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, displays the unburnt remains of a wish lantern found at Tortuga Inn Resort in Bradenton Beach in 2014. She said the lantern was one of about 14 she and code enforcement officers found partially burnt following a nighttime launch. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

“When you wish upon a star…” so the 1940s song goes.

It was written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Walt Disney’s 1940 adaptation of the movie “Pinocchio.”

Wishing upon a star is harmless, but a wish lantern could harm wildlife and the environment.

Similar to balloon and dove releases, lantern releases have grown in popularity in recent years as a memorial at celebrations, but, like balloons, lanterns are known to be dangerous and wasteful, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reporting wildlife injuries around the state due to lantern litter.

Usually made of paper or cloth with a flame supported by a wire, floating into the sky when lit, the lantern debris falls to the ground when the flame burns out.

“They are trash,” said Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director. “They are frequently advertised as biodegradable when they are not.”

Fox said, as Anna Maria Island becomes more and more popular for family reunions and weddings, lantern launches have become a problem.

Additionally, a wish lantern — also referred to as a sky lantern, sky candle or sky balloon — is prohibited by Florida law as a “firework.” Public use is prohibited, though permits can be issued by local fire districts for controlled releases in low-wind conditions.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said use of the lanterns escalated several years ago, but decreased for a time after firefighters with West Manatee Fire Rescue frequented the beach and warned people who were launching lanterns.

According to Fox, the wire support hoop in some lanterns is a hazard for sea turtles, shorebirds and other marine life and wildlife, which can become entangled in the debris.

“They can float over a mile away from where they were launched and frequently land in trees and on rooftops,” Fox said. “Not to mention what can happen to wildlife.”

To report use of wish lanterns or other fireworks, call code enforcement in the appropriate city:

  • Anna Maria code enforcement — 941-708-6130, ext. 139 or ext. 129.
  • Bradenton Beach code enforcement — 941-778-1005, ext. 280.
  • Holmes Beach code enforcement — 941-708-5800, ext. 247.

Report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline, at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone or text Tip@MyFWC.com.


Cold stun fatal for green sea turtle, another on the mend

ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Islander Reporter

“In this big world, you can try, but you can’t save them all,” said Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, regarding a cold-stunned green sea turtle rescued Jan. 19 after it washed ashore near the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria.

The turtle — named Molly by rescuers — was transported Jan. 20 to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota for rehabilitation, but died several days later.

The juvenile turtle was suffering the effects of a rapid drop in water temperature, known as “cold-stunning,” but also had contracted fibropapillomatosis, a disease specific to sea turtles. The condition is a Herpes virus characterized by benign but crippling tumors on the skin and occasionally the carapace.

“It is important to know that this little one will be studied and help us conduct more research to help bring this virus to an end,” Fox said.

Another cold-stunned green turtle was rescued a day later, Jan. 20, when it was found stuck in a crab trap in Tampa Bay near the north end of Anna Maria Island.

The sub-adult green turtle — named Reel by rescuers —was transported to Mote for rehabilitation and is improving.

According to Fox, Reel should soon be ready for release.

“Green turtles are still struggling on the endangered list,” Fox said. “The life of each of these turtles is precious to preserving the species.”

To report a cold-stunned or stranded turtle, contact Fox at 941-778-5638, or call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

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