Turtle watch sees lull followed by nesting spike, skimmers gone

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Several members of a colony of black skimmers, a protected shorebird species, congregate May 20 on the beach near 46th Street in Holmes Beach. As of June 27, AMITW reported the skimmers had left the island without nesting. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

For a moment it looked like they might be slowing down.

The number of documented loggerhead sea turtle nests on Anna Maria Island, which had been steadily rising past 2017’s record-breaking tally, dipped the week of June 25.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox started to wonder if it was the beginning of the seasonal slowdown, when nesting declines and turtle watch turns its attention to hatchlings.

However, according to AMITW “stat guy” Pete Gross, 15 turtles nested on island beaches early June 27 — the highest nesting in one day of the 2018 season.

“The second half of nesting season has begun,” Gross wrote in a June 27 email to Fox.

Fox said nesting patterns are dependent on many variables that come together to determine when, where and if the turtles will nest.

“Everything is cyclical,” Fox said June 27. “Their food is dependent on the water temperature, it all works together.” She added that mature female sea turtles nest every other year, so the turtles nesting this year are not the same as last year, and they may be facing different issues.

“The winter was mild, then we had unusually chilly temperatures in March, so that may have mixed things up a little,” Fox said.

There still is a chance that 2018 could surpass the 2017 season, which ended with a record-breaking 488 nests.

As of July 1, there were XXX nests and XXX false crawls on the island, as compared to XXX nests and XXX false crawls on the same date in 2017.

“This is just nature,” Fox said. “When it comes to turtle conservation, people on our island are doing a great job keeping our beaches dark and clean for nesting season.”

However, shorebirds are another story.

Black skimmers — a protected shorebird species — usually are in their second nesting cycle by late June. However, as of June 27, the black-and-white birds with a splash of orange on their beaks left the island without nesting.

In April and May, black skimmers were congregating in several colonies on island beaches, with some colonies containing nearly 100 birds, according to Fox.

She said the first skimmer nests usually are laid by the end of May — Memorial Day weekend.

This year, Fox attributed the failure to human intervention.

According to Fox, an anonymous woman was reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for tampering with the birds, including repeatedly chasing them out of the habitat where they nested in 2017. They likely would have nested at the same location this year, Fox said, on the beach near the 5400 block of Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach.

Fox said there is a chance the birds might return to nest, but usually they are gone by September.

“What this person did to the birds makes me sick,” Fox said. “All I can do is stay positive that they might be back to nest.”

She said turtle watch educates the public about best practices on nesting beaches, but can’t account for everyone.

“In general, people are really stepping up for the turtles and birds,” Fox said. “Each year brings new challenges and we just do our best to help Mother Nature take her course.”

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

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