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Date of Issue: April 23, 2008

Turtle patrol ready to roll

The 17 rookies raised their hands to applause.

Then the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch veterans raised their hands, enough of them to form “the wave” in the commission chambers at Holmes Beach City Hall April 15.

“There’s a lot of history in this room of walking the beach,” AMITW executive director Suzi Fox observed as the group’s annual orientation session got under way.

The session was partly a motivational workshop, partly an educational forum on sea turtle nesting led by Fox. The next day, Fox met with code enforcement officials from Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria to discuss regulations associated with turtle nesting.

Fox holds two permits for monitoring sea turtle nesting on Anna Maria Island, but all AMITW volunteers eventually get named on the permits issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The group has collected data on nesting sea turtles since 1982, providing information used to track the status of the endangered animals, as well as chart the impact of changes on the coast. Additional groups around the state provide data to create a composite picture of activity on the coasts - information used by local and county governments, the FWC and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as well as federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The data collector is the absolute key to many, many things that happen in Manatee County and the state of Florida,” Fox said. “We do big work out there.”

“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world,” Fox added. “That is certainly what happens here on Anna Maria Island.”

Last year AMITW tracked 133 loggerhead sea turtle nests and reported that 10,074 hatchlings were sent to the Gulf of Mexico.

Walkers last week signed up to walk a stretch of shoreline in one of eight sections one morning a week - from about May 1 through Oct. 31.

“We do it for a lot of reasons,” Fox said. “For exercise. To put back in the environment.… I love what I do and the last couple of years I have had more darn fun with the volunteers out there.”

The walkers are responsible for reporting to section coordinators evidence of a turtle nest, a false crawl in which the female turtle returned to the water without leaving a nest, a hatched nest or a threat to a nest or turtle.

“It is a team effort,” Fox said. “I love when everybody is helping everybody else.”

Jeanne Deam attended last week’s meeting to register to walk in Anna Maria. She and her husband, Don, will be second-year walkers.

“It’s a great cause,” Deam said, who moved to the Island about three years ago from Michigan. “And nice people. And I learned a lot.”

While nesting season generally begins on May 1 and the Island’s first nest historically gets found close to Mother’s Day, Fox said warmer Gulf temperatures might mean an early start to the 2008 season.

“I got a feeling here this year,” she said. “We might see something early and, if we do, we might activate right away.”