Ticktock: Set your turtle watch for hatch-time

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People and their beach gear cover the sand on Anna Maria Island for the Fourth of July, but space remains for sea turtle nests. According to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox, no incidents were reported involving sea turtle nests over the holiday. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Kathy Noonan, AMITW volunteer, marks a bench with tape July 5 after a loggerhead collided there while nesting. The Holmes Beach Police Department later removed the bench and is determining what to do with others on the beach that may pose problems for protected sea turtles. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

It’s almost swing time for the sea turtles of Anna Maria Island.

Nesting on the island beaches slows by the end of July and, at the same time, hatchlings should be emerging from their sandy nests and heading to the Gulf of Mexico.

As of July 8, AMITW broke the previous years’ nesting record with 388 nests and 456 false crawls on the island, as compared with 382 nests and 361 false crawls on the same date in 2017.

No nests have hatched thus far this season, which began in earnest with the first nest, spotted May 13.

It’s also the time of year when visitors and residents pack the beaches for summer fun.

According to Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, Fourth of July revelers were mindful of nests on the beach, with no reported problems.

“People are learning to share the beach,” Fox said July 5. “They are becoming more mindful of sea turtle nesting on the island.”

However, she said July 5 that AMITW volunteers who walk the beach each morning looking for tracks indicating nests, reported a turtle collided with a bench in Holmes Beach. It managed to nest under the bench and return to the Gulf.

Benches and other objects on the beach — lawn chairs, tents, canopies and watercraft — violate sea turtle ordinances that prohibit beach furniture and gear on the beach overnight, Fox said.

The Holmes Beach Police Department removed the bench from it’s spot near the public access at 66th Street, and is working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to determine what to do with other benches that could be problematic for nesting and hatching turtles.

Fox said ensuring beachfront lighting is compliant is the top priority for turtle watch as time approaches for the nests to hatch.

Hatchlings follow their instincts toward the reflection of the moon and stars on the Gulf on their path to the water as they first emerge. Any light visible from the shoreline can disorient the hatchlings, leading to predation, dehydration, exhaustion and death.

A July 5 night inspection determined most beachfront properties have turtle-friendly, meaning they have low, shielded lighting and indoor lights are either turned off or shielded by curtains or blinds.

However, Fox said the problem properties that are not compliant appear to be the same as those that did not come into compliance during the 2017 nesting and hatchling season.

“People who had disorientations behind their properties last year should be checking their lights before the hatchlings start to emerge,” Fox said. “Otherwise, you could end up with 100 hatchlings at your doorstep.”

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

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