AMITW powers through beach chores in red-tide conditions

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With masks in place, Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, and Skip Coyne, volunteer, patrol the beach Aug. 6 looking for new loggerhead sea turtle nests. Turtle watch volunteers were wearing masks to diffuse the effects of red tide. Islander Photos: Chris-Ann Silver Esformes
Kellan, 4, left, digs a hole in the sand Aug. 6, as Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring’s youngest permitted volunteer, Konnor, 10, and mom Jenny Oelfke of Holmes Beach, excavate a nest near 14th Street in Bradenton Beach.

As thousands of loggerhead hatchlings leave their nests on Anna Maria Island and scamper to the Gulf of Mexico, some people wonder, will they make it past the red tide?

Thus far, hatchlings have not been harmed by the toxic algae bloom leaving dead sea-life in its wake since Aug. 4 on island beaches, according to Simona Ceriani, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission marine turtle program

“FWC has never documented any apparent adverse effects of red tide on hatchling sea turtles,” Ceriani wrote in an Aug. 6 email. “They are probably not affected because they quickly move offshore, then live at the surface of oceanic areas for at least several years.”

Additionally, she said the “primary route” of the lethal toxins for sea turtles is by ingesting food containing the toxins. Hatchlings subsist on internalized yolk for at least a week.

“By the time they begin feeding, they are well away from nearshore areas where red tide blooms often persist,” Ceriani wrote.

But the stench and respiratory irritation associated with red tide is affecting Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers that walk the beach each morning at dawn looking for hatched nests and collecting nest data.

According to Fox, as of Aug. 7, the team of more than 100 volunteers were looking for hatched nests, not marking new ones as it had done since May 1.

“It would take too much time and we don’t want them out there in the red tide more than they need to be,” Fox said.

Since nesting slowed in August, three teams of two volunteers were patrolling the beach by ATV in the morning, marking new nests.

After reporting to Manatee County representatives, county workers were getting started on clearing the beach of dead fish.

She said volunteers reported some hatchling disorientations.

As of Aug. 12, 28 nests out of 513 on the island had disoriented.

After nesting or hatching, adult and hatchling sea turtles are drawn by instinct to the Gulf of Mexico by the reflection of light on the water’s surface. Disorientations can occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water.

Fox said three nests this season hatched and disoriented on the beach near the Circle K convenience store, 103 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach. She said Bradenton Beach code enforcement officer Gail Garneau contacted the district manager who met with Garneau to resolve the issue by installing shielded turtle-friendly bulbs.

“Now more than ever, with red tide on our beaches,” it is important to prevent hatchling disorientations, Fox said.

The hatchlings use “the strength they have to get out to the seagrass beyond the red tide, so any movement in the wrong direction depletes them of that much-needed energy,” she added.

Information about turtle-friendly lighting can be found on the FWC website at http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/sea-turtles/lighting/.

Report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone or text tip@myfwc.com.

For more information about AMITW, contact Fox at suzilfox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

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