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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Turtles finally arrive, tentatively

Well, they're here finally, the mother turtles who will propagate their race on our beach.

They're a few weeks late and they're very shy and they haven't managed to lay a single egg yet, but they're crawling around looking for likely homes for their "kids."

Five "false crawls" have been logged since the first one Sunday near the Bean Point walkover, three Monday and one Tuesday, all in Anna Maria. "False crawls" are the trails left by the big reptiles that come ashore to nest and change their minds. The tracks look like a big (very big) zipper trail, or wide tractor-tire tread on the beach leading in and out of the water.

The first crawl of the year was spotted by Joe St. Germaine, who is one of about 50 "active beach walkers," said Suzi Fox, who manages Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and holds the state permit for marine turtle preservation.

The "active walkers" are in addition to about 150 members of Turtle Watch who take turns monitoring the beach during turtle nesting season.

"I don't know what I'd do without them, members and nonmembers," Fox said. "Joe is really great, faithful to the end, eyes always open. He's well trained, but the state requires formally trained walkers for formal reports."

Three other "false crawls" were found Monday morning on the beach at Bayfront Park in Anna Maria. It's possible that one turtle made all three tracks, Fox said, but not all that probable. Tuesday morning's false crawl was on the beach near the Sandbar restaurant.

The track that St. Germaine found at Bean Point was made by a relatively small turtle, probably a young one who was "maybe not quite ready, or not sure just what to do with all those eggs," Fox said.

Sea turtles dig down a couple of feet, deposit 100 or so eggs that are about the size of golf balls, cover them and head back into the Gulf, letting sun and sand incubate their eggs.

The six-month turtle nesting season officially began May 1, but most years some come out of the Gulf a week or three early. Not this year, which Fox attributes to chilly Gulf water temperature which now is just about warm enough - 80 degrees and up is deemed ideal for turtles.

Anyone coming upon a sea turtle on the beach is warned to stay quiet, avoid use of flashlights at night, and give the turtle ample room to nest. No flash photography.

The nest will be marked in the morning when AMITW volunteers do their walk.

Fox may be reached at the Turtle Watch Education Center, 5408 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, 778-1435. For turtle emergencies, a mother turtle in distress, or eventually, hatchlings gone astray, call her cell phone at 232-1405.