Turtle watch breaks record for nests, lighting concerns remain

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Lights Aug. 2 illuminating the house under construction near 14th Street North and Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach caused hatchling sea turtles to turn away from the Gulf of Mexico and into the street, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

They’ve done it again.

With 504 nests on Anna Maria Island beaches as of Aug. 5, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring has crushed the 2017 record of 488 documented nests.

But, they didn’t do it alone.

Through outreach programs, including weekly informational Turtle Talks and public nest excavations, AMITW educates the public about the importance of turtle-friendly lighting and best practices for beachgoers and residents on nesting beaches.

The results are starting to show.

AMITW works with code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to ensure the beach is ready for female turtles to lay their nests, starting in May and continuing through October.

Nesting season preparation includes ensuring exterior lights visible from the shoreline are low and shielded and light bulbs are Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved. Interior lights visible from the shoreline should be turned off or blocked by blinds or curtains after dark.

As of Aug. 5, AMITW reported 16 nests contained hatchlings that disoriented on their journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

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, making them vulnerable to death from predators, exhaustion or dehydration.

But some recent disorientations were not caused by people on the beach with cellphones or flashlights, as some people wrongly assumed.

The brief use of small lights on the beach are not necessarily the cause of disorientations, although flashlights on the beach are strongly discouraged during nesting season.

“People should not shine lights on sea turtles if they see them on the beach at night, but that is not what is causing disorientations,” Fox said. “It’s lights from homes and businesses that are out of compliance.”

Fox was notified Aug. 2 that a nest hatched and disoriented on the beach near 14th Street North in Bradenton Beach. She said the disorientation was caused by lights left on at the construction site on the second floor.

That day, she worked with Bradenton Beach code officer Gail Garneau to assemble and deliver materials, including signage and turtle-friendly bulbs, to construction properties, reminding crews to turn off lights at the end of their work day.

When turtle watch gets a call that more than three hatchlings have been found on a property, Fox files a disorientation report that goes not only to the city, but also to the owner and FWC.

For three or less hatchlings, turtle watch rescues and releases them to the Gulf without making reports.

According to Fox, the disorientation reports are a tool to help the owner fix the problem — not a legal document or citation.

“The report is not meant to be threatening,” Fox said. “It’s meant to be informative and detailed so people know exactly what needs to be fixed.”

Fox said AMITW does what they can to help properties come into compliance, “but, ultimately, it is in the hands of city code enforcement to deal with the issues.”

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 Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, #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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