Sea turtle season intensifies on Anna Maria Island

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Chairs were placed in the early hours of July 9 to protect an overnight loggerhead nest near 1900 Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach prior to volunteers from AMITW marking the nest. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Sea turtle season is in full swing on Anna Maria Island.

Loggerheads are nesting and hatchlings are emerging by the hundreds from nests on island beaches.

If nesting numbers continue to escalate, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring could observe a new record for sea turtle nests on the island, as it has for the past three years.

As of July 14, AMITW reported 18 hatched nests with 1,025 hatchlings to the Gulf of Mexico, compared with three hatched nests and 88 hatchlings on the same date in 2018.

Also, as of July 14, 442 loggerhead nests were documented on AMI, as compared with 430 in 2018.

The turtles nesting on Anna Maria Island’s shore mostly are loggerheads, a protected species. They nest on the beach through October, usually at night, digging a small pit, about a foot wide and 18-24 inches deep, and leaving behind about 100 eggs in the clutch to the care of Mother Nature before returning to the water.

Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said there is a problem with people on the beach at night when sea turtles emerge to nest.

“I know people are excited to see the turtles on the beach at night,” Fox said. “However, if people keep disturbing their nesting attempts, they are going to love these creatures to death.”

She said people need to maintain a distance of at least 100 feet from nesting turtles and should not use their cellphones to take photo or video of sea turtles on the beach, as it could disrupt a nesting attempt, causing the turtle to return to the water without laying eggs.

The morning of July 9, volunteers walking the beach looking for signs of nesting, spotted a circle of chairs surrounding a nest laid the night before, according to Fox.

She said when turtle watch volunteers identified the nest, the man who had placed the chairs said he used them to mark the nest because he wanted to ensure people knew it was there.

“I know he meant well, but what he didn’t realize is that by doing that he destroyed the evidence we use to determine if the turtle nested or returned to the water without laying eggs,” Fox said.

She said she is concerned that resort and rental managers are not providing guests with turtle watch materials at check-in, or talking with them about turtle nesting.

“Visitors need to see the materials that we give to island resorts and rental agencies, but they also should be told what the rules are,” Fox said.

Hatchlings, like nesting female sea turtles, emerge and follow their instincts toward the reflection of the moon and stars on the Gulf of Mexico. Light visible from the shoreline can disorient nesting turtles and hatchlings, leading to predation, dehydration, exhaustion and death.

Beachfront properties need low, shielded exterior lighting with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-compliant bulbs and indoor lights must be either turned off or concealed by curtains or blinds.

The first hatchlings of the season emerged overnight July 3, with about 25 of the turtles disorienting toward the dunes, allegedly due to lighting visible from the beach.

As of July 14, of 18 hatched nests, four have had disorientations.

Fox said property owners by law must fix noncompliant lighting, which should have been addressed before nesting season began May 1.

“Here we are in July and any lighting concerns should have been handled in April,” she said, adding that most of the problems are related to properties that have been out of compliance for years.

However, she also said new construction, including the recently renovated Anna Maria Beach Resort, on the Gulf at 6306 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach, formerly the Blue Water Beach Club, was the alleged source of one of the disorientations.

Fox is working with code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to address the issues.

“For the most part, things are going well, as evidenced by our numbers,” she said. “Now it is up to code enforcement, property owners and people who love our turtles to get us in tiptop shape.”

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