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Date of Issue: April 19, 2007

Turtle talk concludes library series

Janice Kisner of the Friends of the Island Library introduces Suzi Fox to a lecture audience on April 10 at the Island Branch Library, 5701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. Fox talked about Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and nesting sea turtles. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The photograph projected on the screen contained two subjects: a discarded beach chair and a dead sea turtle.

The chair trapped the turtle, which eventually drowned, Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, told her audience at the Island Branch Library in Holmes Beach April 10.

A $5 beach chair abandoned on the beach can become a deadly hazard during nesting season.

That was one of many cautions Fox shared with the crowd assembled for the Friends of the Island Library's last forum in its winter lecture series.

Fox covered a lot of ground during her one-hour presentation and then invited those who don't already participate in AMITW programs to attend a volunteer orientation April 26.The orientation is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Fox titled last week's lecture "Hot Chicks, Cool Dudes" because temperature plays a significant role in the sea turtle's sex determination, as well as mating, nesting and hatching.

When the Gulf temperature reaches 60 degrees, for example, that's a mating cue for sea turtles. Also, hotter summers can mean shorter incubation periods.

Fox said at a recent conference researchers raised concerns about global warming and its impact on sea turtles.

"Global warming kept becoming a topic every time we turned around," she said, adding that one researcher predicted that "within so many years we are going to see mostly females being born."

AMITW's mission, Fox said, is to collect data for the state about sea turtles, to watch over nests on the beaches from May 1 through the summer, to assist stranded turtles, to respond when a deceased turtle is found and to educate the public about sea turtles.

About 100 people assist in the efforts, most of them as walkers who go out at dawn one day a week through the nesting season to survey a mile of beach.

Last year, AMITW monitored 121 nests - 9,767 eggs - on 11.7 kilometers of beach.

The walkers, as well as watch coordinators, look for signs that female turtles have come out of the water to nest, for any disturbances or hazards to nests and for hatchlings who made their way to the Gulf.

"We don't want to see one turtle that doesn't make it," Fox said.

But the volunteers do see turtles that don't make it. The survival rate is about one in 1,000.

Fox identified several basic threats to turtles. Humans and their "stuff," as well as dogs and cats, can disturb or harm adult turtles and hatchlings. Ghost crabs, raccoons, seabirds and fire arts can also harm the young turtles or turtle eggs.

Human "stuff," Fox said, can include artificial light, beach alterations, shrimp trawlers, pollution and beach and marine debris - such as the beach chair that trapped a female turtle heading to shore to lay her eggs or the monofilament line that mortally wounded a female leatherback found on the Island several years ago.

"Anything can happen out there to sea turtles," said Fox, who issued a challenge to Islanders and vacationers.

"The challenge to all residents is to take one day a week to monitor for nesting," she said. "And, if you are a visitor, ask your management what they are doing for nesting season."

For more information about AMITW, call 778-5638.

For more information about Friends of the Island Library, call 778-6341.