Sea turtles on Anna Maria Island usually nest and hatch under cover of darkness.
However, lower evening temperatures due to afternoon rains the last week in July and first week in August led to some hatches before nightfall. It also led mature female loggerheads to emerge from the Gulf of Mexico to nest before dusk and after dawn, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox.
“It’s all temperature-driven,” Fox said July 31. “We are seeing more hatches before dark, when there are overcast or rainy days cooling off the beach.”
The island is known for beautiful sunsets, which attract people with cameras in hand to the shore. When sea turtles emerge before dusk, many people have smartphones and immediately post their turtle pics and videos to social media.
A Facebook post July 29 with photos and videos of a sea turtle nesting on the beach at sunset had 371 “likes,” 78 shares and 99 comments by Aug. 3.
One commenter wrote, “Fifty feet away, people,” suggesting spectators keep a safe distance from nesting or hatching turtles.
The Islander learned a federal agency recommends keeping a distance of 50 yards.
“There are a ton of posts on social media lately,” Fox said. “But, people seem to understand they need to stay back and stay quiet.”
When a female loggerhead crawled ashore July 29 before sunset to nest in Bradenton Beach, Fox attended.
She said people “policed themselves” and when the nesting was done, they followed, keeping about 50 feet away, as the turtle crawled back to the Gulf.
Their respect might result from AMITW’s education efforts.
Turtle watch volunteer Kathy Doddridge, coordinator for the section of beach that extends between 26th Street North and Cortez Road in Bradenton Beach, has been leading public nest excavations.
Volunteers excavate nests 72 hours after they hatch to count eggs and collect data — how many eggs hatched or remained unhatched. If there live hatchlings remain behind, they are released to the Gulf.
The public is invited to attend excavations and learn about AMITW’s work.
Doddridge said people are excited to learn about sea turtles during excavations, and often take photos and video.
“It’s a balancing act. We’re educating people because we want them to do the right thing with lights and filling in holes, but that also generates excitement for them and they want to share it,” Doddridge said. “I always say, ‘Take photos if you want, but really, just sit back, relax and enjoy it, because you probably aren’t going to see this again.’”
For more information about sea turtles, contact Fox at email@example.com or 941-778-5638.
NOAA says: ‘Stay 50 yards back from nesting sea turtles’
People are fascinated with sea turtles on Anna Maria Island, but respect is recommended.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, all sea turtles found in the U.S. are listed under the Environmental Species Act, which makes it illegal to touch, harass, harm, possess, or kill turtles, their eggs, or hatchlings. These animals spend the majority of their lives in the ocean, but come onto beaches only to lay their eggs or bask in the sun. When viewing a sea turtle in the water or on a beach, remain at a respectful distance—the minimum recommended is 50 yards — half a football field.