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Date of Issue: April 23, 2008

Officials prepare for nesting season

Turtle talk
Jodie Hearlson, an intern with Mote Marine in Sarasota, talks about sea turtles and the approaching nesting season during a program April 13 at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Holmes Beach. Nesting season begins on May 1 and continues into October. Islander Photo: Nancy Ambrose

Holmes Beach code enforcement officer Nancy Hall saw bright lights last summer.

So did Anna Maria code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon and Bradenton Beach code enforcement officer Gail Garneau.

This turtle nesting season, they’d like darker skies over their beaches.

On April 16, the code enforcement officers joined in a meeting at Bradenton Beach City Hall with representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Power & Light, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, and a number of Bradenton Beach city officials.

The goal was to review state and local rules for nesting season, which begins May 1, as well as discuss how to encourage voluntary adherence to the rules among residents, businesses and Island businesses.

Beginning in May, AMITW volunteers will walk the Island’s beaches each morning, from the bayfront in Anna Maria around the north end to include the Gulf shore to Longboat Pass.

The volunteers have the high-profile task of monitoring the activity of nesting female sea turtles, mostly loggerheads here, and, later in the season, that of hatchlings heading to the Gulf.

Meanwhile, the city’s code enforcement officers and other municipal officials enforce regulations intended to protect the endangered marine animals - regulations that prohibit light from reaching the beaches from sunset to sunrise and rules against leaving beach furniture and toys on the shore.

Sometimes the officers head out at night to check for lighting issues and sometimes in the morning. They told last week’s gathering that they often find people eager to help turtles, but they also encounter people who are reluctant - or even refuse - to cooperate and shut off a light.

FWC representative Jean Higgins offered support from her agency.

Higgins said she would return to the Island to conduct lighting surveys if the cities wished.

“I specialize with lighting issues,” she said. “And one of my jobs is to go around and help code enforcement officers.

Higgins also offered help with enforcement issues, specifically if a code enforcement officer encounters repeat problems at a property and said FWC also could help finance “dark sky” lighting efforts with grants.

Higgins said this turtle season there will be a federal and state push to require changes in lighting over allowing permitholders to relocate or cage a nest.

“We’re really getting pressure from the federal level not to move any nests or cage a nest,” she said.

Artificial lights can disorient both the adult nesting turtle and the hatchlings. In the past, disorientations have resulted in hatchlings crawling toward Gulf Drive rather than the Gulf of Mexico.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale recalled incidents in which police officers were collecting hatchlings in their uniform caps.

AMITW executive director Suzi Fox recalled incidents in which hatchlings didn’t survive.

Around the room, the officials meeting last week at Bradenton Beach City Hall agreed they didn’t want to see disorientations this season.

But, noted Bradenton Beach building official Steve Gilbert, municipalities also “have to provide minimum illumination levels.”

Gilbert observed that the Florida Department of Transportation has minimum illumination levels that can make lowering or turning out lights on Gulf Drive difficult.

Higgins offered FWC support in negotiating. “We have no problem dealing with the DOT on any level,” she said.

And FP&L account manager Don Sayre said, “We had had that same issue. The DOT is much more agreeable to not maintain uniformity levels and working with the local communities.”

Sayre also said FP&L could adjust the direction of street lighting along Gulf Drive. In recent years, lights have been replaced, mostly due to storms, “but they have not been tilted down,” he said.