Resort corrects ‘unfriendly’ sea turtle lighting

Nesting sea turtle numbers on Anna Maria Island continue to rise each year.

The increase in nests is due to increased education and better sea turtle-friendly lighting practices, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, Suzi Fox.

But lights visible from the shoreline can disorient hatchlings away from their journey to the Gulf, leading to death from dehydration, exhaustion or predation.

“Unfriendly turtle lights” at the Anna Maria Beach Resort, 6306 Gulf Drive, formerly the Blue Water Beach Club, were the apparent cause of disorientations over the July 4 holiday.

Fox wrote the lights were still out of compliance in a July 25 email to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

As of Aug. 4, there were 507 nests on the island, compared with 504 on the same date in 2018.

Sea turtles nest here “because the beaches are dark at night,” Fox said. “If we want them to keep coming back, we have to make sure it stays that way.”

As of Aug. 4, 96 nests had hatched, with 411 remaining on island beaches.

When sea turtles hatch, they are drawn by their instincts to the reflection of the stars on the Gulf of Mexico, and from now through October, hatchlings are emerging from nests in the sand by the thousands.

At a July 31 code violation hearing, attorney Michael Connolly, Holmes Beach special magistrate, granted a continuance of a hearing for the corporate owner, Blue Water Resort AMI LLC, on two possible violations, including one concerning turtle-friendly lighting.

Attorney Aaron Thomas, representing the owner, asked that the case be continued pending compliance.

Thomas said the problem lights were replaced with turtle-friendly bulbs July 29, which was confirmed by Holmes Beach code compliance supervisor JT Thomas.

Connolly continued the case to 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Fox said July 31 she is concerned some lights in the stairwell are still visible from the beach and should be changed out for amber-colored Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved bulbs. She spoke July 31 with resort representative Allen Pullen, who said the resort is willing to work with Fox to ensure the property is turtle-friendly.

“They said they were willing to go the extra mile,” Fox said.

She said grant money from the Sea Turtle Conservancy helps with the cost of the bulbs.

She also said garage lights at the resort’s neighbor to the north, La Plage, 6424 Gulf Drive, as well as several properties in Bradenton Beach, need amber bulbs.

“We just need to get them set up and get those lights changed out,” Fox said. “We are almost there and the island is looking good — for people and sea turtles.”

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