Turtles bumping into beach benches were already on the radar for folks who monitor sea turtle nesting on Anna Maria Island.
So when a female turtle nested overnight July 4 under a bench near 66th Street in Holmes Beach, what followed only added fuel to the smoldering fire between the city and Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.
Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said observers watched a turtle “collide and struggle” while nesting under one of the 50 or so memorial benches situated on the sand on the Holmes Beach shoreline.
This was not the first time a sea turtle has encountered a bench this year, Fox said, noting at least two other nests found under benches.
AMITW volunteers roped off the nest the morning of July 5, marking it with stakes and orange tape.
After hearing about the issue from the media, Holmes Beach public works employees removed the bench and replaced the nest markers.
That, Fox says, is a violation of a federal law that protects sea turtle nests.
“A question that has not been asked or answered is, why do they feel they have to move the benches with nests at all this year? They have never moved them in the past,” Fox said.
“The two other benches were moved also, but just 3 feet away. When a sea turtle bumps and collides and then nests, all the visual signs we are trained to look for are gone. Then, when the bench is moved, there’s no way to tell if a nest is damaged by all the moving,” Fox said.
The city maintains when it moved the bench, there was no sign indicating it was a nest.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement spokesman Rob Klepper told the Islander July 16 “There are no charges, charges are not being planned and there is no ongoing investigation into the matter.”
It is a third-degree felony to take, disturb, sell, harass, mutilate or destroy any sea turtle, hatchling egg or nest, without a marine turtle permit.
Fox remains upset, alleging Holmes Beach is in violation of its own ordinance, which requires beach furniture be removed overnight. The benches have become popular memorials to loved ones in Holmes Beach on the shoreline.
They often are placed near public beach accesses, providing people a resting place at an entry to the beach.
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said better communication between municipalities and special interest groups is necessary.
“We’re checking with other municipalities in the state to see how they’re handling this issue,” HBPD code enforcement officer JT Thomas said July 15.
“We’re looking into better ways to work with the FWC, DEP, visitors, turtle volunteers and the stakeholders who live full time on this island.”
The memorial benches mostly come from the island residents, Thomas added.
On Anna Maria Island, sharing the beach is a necessity, with 430 sea turtle nests as of July 15.
Nesting and hatching takes place May 1-Oct. 31.