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Date of Issue: June 22, 2006

Turtles keep coming, most new sand gone

alberto beach pic

The Island's sea turtle nest total has hit 38, ahead of last year, although it appears two-thirds of their newly renourished nesting ground has washed back out to sea.

Of the total, nine nests were relocated away from the attack of Tropical Storm Alberto, said Suzi Fox, state sea turtle preservation permit holder and head of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.

And the storm washed 12 nests away, she said. In addition to the 38 successes so far are 36 false crawls, the zipper-like trail left by turtles that come ashore to nest and change their minds.

Some of the nine nests moved by Turtle Watch were literally snatched from the sea, already washed out and the eggs adrift in the Gulf for the helpers to try to catch and save.

"It's quite a challenge," Fox said. "You're up to your hips in water trying to scoop up those delicate eggs as fast as you can." The relocated nests joined six others moved earlier in the season to safer ground.

Many of the nests were laid before the storm, near the crest of a large berm, which normally would have been relocated to safer ground. But the state told Turtle Watch to leave them where they were so the effects of their unusual location could be studied. A dozen of them washed out in the storm, the victims of Mother Nature.

The nine relocated nests were moved straight back from where the mother turtle dug them into the sand, to preserve the hatchlings' sense of where to return to reproduce in their turn. That is unlike the policy of years ago, when nests were moved to a hatchery area. "It's not natural for all of them to be in one area," she said. "Also, it makes it easy for predators."

This year's policy also differs from last year, when nests moved away from the placement of sand renourishment activities were relocated along a 1-mile stretch of beach. "That attracted raccoons, too," Fox said.

Now the big berm is gone, removed by Alberto, and the big marine reptiles have an easier time of it.

One nest was made far up the beach on the bay side, Fox said, the first one that far up since 1990. "A man saw the big turtle moving in the dim light and watched her move aside for a cat," Fox said. "She just went on up the incline to do her business."

Fox continues her duties as monitor of the renourishment project, finished now for all practical purposes. She collects turtle data for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which require that the monitoring go on for two years after renourishment is finished.