Cooler temps set sea turtles off to slow start

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A sea turtle nest is spotted early May 18 with a note in the sand in Holmes Beach before AMITW volunteers arrived. Seaweed indicates the “nest.” AMITW executive director Suzi Fox asks that people leave nests and the surrounding area undisturbed. Islander Courtesy Photo: AMITW
Barbara Riskay, new AMITW volunteer, left, is congratulated May 16 by AMITW coordinator Anne Camp on her first loggerhead nest. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Lisa Weiss, a new volunteer walker for AMITW, stands May 16 next to a false crawl she spotted on the beach near the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria. “I was so excited to spot my first crawl,” Weiss said. “I’m just waiting for a nest now.” Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Timing is everything.

Loggerheads have begun their nesting cycle on Anna Maria Island, but they appear to be off to a slow start.

The first sea turtle nest of the season, which runs May-October, was documented May 12 on Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

As of May 21, 17 nests and 38 false crawls were identified by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.

By the same date in 2017, 26 nests and 36 false crawls were recorded.

“False crawls are up all over the island, not just one spot,” AMITW executive director Suzi Fox said May 16. “And a lot of quick ins-and-outs, which implies the turtle is not ready to nest.”

She said the abundance of nesting attempts could be caused by cooler-than-usual temperatures leading to cooler sand. The turtles use their instincts to determine if the sand is warm enough to incubate the eggs they leave behind.

A false crawl occurs when a sea turtle emerges from the water and crawls onto the beach but abandons the nesting attempt and returns to the Gulf of Mexico. False crawls can be caused by impediments in the turtle’s path as it crawls up the beach, including chairs, canopies and deep holes.

Other times, the answer is not clear.

Last year, AMITW had a record-breaking season. By the end of October 2017, more nests — 483 loggerheads and five green sea turtles — were discovered on island beaches than any previous year.

However, people should remember the success is due largely in-part to their behavior on nesting beaches, Fox said.

Fox said if people see nesting turtles, they should observe from afar. Any interruptions could lead to a false crawl.

Additionally, she said some people have “marked” nests by doing such things as drawing a circle in the sand around a nest, or leaving notes written in seaweed nearby for the walkers to find the next day.

She said while she understands people are trying to help, walkers are trained to spot nests and the tracks left by nesting turtles provide valuable data.

“I know they are trying to help, but by drawing notes in the sand and such, they are destroying the tracks that we need as our primary data,” Fox said. “Just let them be and we will find the nests the next morning.”

Fox said people are doing great with turtle-friendly beachfront lighting, but there have been some problems with people in condominiums in Bradenton Beach leaving beach chairs out overnight.

Sea turtles only leave the water to nest, so any obstructions on the beach can lead to a false crawl or worse — in 2016 a sea turtle nested under a beach chair then dragged it on its back into the water. The chair could have caused the turtle to drown.

According to sea turtle regulations in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach, beach furniture, including chairs and canopies, must be removed by the end of the day. Furniture left on the beach overnight will be tagged and stored by city code enforcement officers, and violators may be required to pay a fine to retrieve items.

Fox said the combined efforts of city code enforcement, turtle watch volunteers and the residents and visitors on the island contribute to clean, dark beaches, which means more nests.

“Overall, the beaches are looking great — just a few hiccups to take care of,” Fox said. “When the time is right, our west coast girls will be back in force.”

For more information on nesting season, contact Fox at suzifox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

Visit myfwc.com/seaturtle and click on “Sea Turtles and Lights” or “Wildlife Friendly Lighting” for more information on keeping beaches safe for sea turtles.

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

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