It’s go-time for loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings on Anna Maria Island.
However, due to human error, some hatchlings are having problems making it to the Gulf of Mexico.
As of Aug. 19, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported 243 hatched nests out of 521 on the island, of which 32 disoriented.
With the current 2018 average estimated at 80 hatchlings per nest, that would be about 2,560 hatchlings that lost their way to the water.
Of the 32 nests that disoriented, one was in Anna Maria, 10 were in Bradenton Beach and 21 were in Holmes Beach.
During nesting season — May-October — local and state laws require exterior lights that are visible from the beach must be low and shielded with fixtures containing turtle-friendly bulbs. Interior lights must not be darkened after dusk.
Instinct draws hatchings — sometimes 100 in a nest — to the Gulf of Mexico by the reflection of light on the water’s surface.
Disorientations occur when lights on land — visible from the nesting area — attract turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration.
When a nest hatches, it’s indicated by an 8- to 12-inch indentation in the sand surrounded by tiny tracks, usually leading to the water.
However, if the tracks indicate the hatchlings went the wrong way, AMITW classifies it as a disorientation and investigates the cause.
Code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach work with AMITW to ensure lights are compliant, and to alert beachfront occupants to correct lighting problems.
With the least amount of nests this season at 85, the city of Anna Maria also has had the least disorientations.
The wide beach on the north end of the island, including a line of dunes separating the beach from most residential properties, minimizes lighting issues, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox said.
She said recently, lights at beachfront properties under construction in Bradenton Beach have led to some disorientations, but code enforcement remedied those issues within 24 hours.
“Usually it’s a very easy fix,” Fox said. “Like changing over to turtle-friendly bulbs.”
Holmes Beach has the highest number of disorientations and, most of the spots are repeat offenders from previous years, according to Fox.
Sunset Cove condominiums on the beach near 33rd Street on Gulf Drive was noted by Fox on her first lighting inspection in May, with lighting in the open parking area under the building and from balconies that is not FWC-approved, as noted in Fox’s disorientation report.
Fox’s disorientation reports are emailed daily to the city code enforcement departments, Manatee County and the FWC.
After a second nest within sight of the condos disoriented Aug. 12, leading to more than 20 hatchlings dead in the road and many other live hatchlings pulled from bushes, Holmes Beach Code enforcement officer JT Thomas visited the location Aug. 15 at night to review the issue with lighting.
“We prefer to observe it at night, then meet with the people there during the day and discuss how to fix the problem,” Thomas said, adding, he only cites people who remain out of compliance after a notice.
As of Aug. 16, Thomas was working with Sunset Cove condo representatives to fix the problem. Turtle-friendly bulbs were ordered for the balconies and Thomas determined the garage lights are compliant.
Still, representatives of the condo wrote him, “As a precautionary measure we will be installing additional acrylic amber sleeves over every T-8 fluorescent bulb in the parking area of the garage.”
When asked about other locations where disorientations have been documented, Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer wrote in an Aug. 16 email, “JT has made contact with every location of disorientation making sure everyone comes into compliance.”
But Fox says the problems remain.
“Hardly any of the hatchlings in that area are going to the water, the problem is so severe,” Fox said. “Let’s hope code can work with the condo owners to get on board.”
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 email@example.com.
For more information about AMITW, contact Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-778-5638.