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Date of Issue: August 16, 2008

My summer vacation: A close encounter with a nesting turtle

A loggerhead sea turtle nests on the beach on Anna Maria Island. Islander Photo: Courtesy Joe McClash

I have been sailing, diving, kayaking, fishing, skiing and boating these waters for years. But every once in a while you share an experience that makes you say, “Wow!”

I was vacationing in Holmes Beach for a few weeks in July. Walking the beaches of Anna Maria Island first thing in the morning is a special treat - from watching the different birds at their morning feeding to seeing the way the beach looks after being sculpted by the waves.

Then there is always the hope of seeing turtle tracks leading to a nesting spot on the beach and back to the Gulf of Mexico.

My first week on the Island I was fortunate enough to see turtle tracks from a turtle who had laid her eggs the night before.

I thought that was one of my luckiest times on the beach. Little did I know I was in for a special treat two short weeks later. I love this area where we live.

My morning walks on the beach were great, but I hadn’t seen any more signs of turtle tracks. I must admit, finding those turtle tracks brought back the excitement of my childhood when getting a gift at Christmas.

Then, after dinner one Saturday, we were enjoying another favorite time at the beach - the night sky. The stars were out. The moon was rising and the look of the beach and Gulf was changing as the moon lit the sky with each degree of rise.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of movement on the beach. “I think I see a turtle on the beach,” I said.

“No, it’s just the seaweed on the beach,” someone answered.

But to our amazement it became evident there was definitely movement and it was coming right at us. We sat in our chairs motionless, startled by what we were seeing - a loggerhead crawling under this moonlit sky searching for the perfect spot to lay her eggs.

We were wondering where she would stop as she struggled along the beach, feeling the weight of gravity out of her home in the water.

Again we were amazed as she stopped almost 8 feet from our chairs and started flipping sand as she had found her perfect location to nest beside us.

Never having seen a turtle lay eggs before, we did not have a clue how long it would take. After almost two hours of flipping sand, burrowing down, laying eggs and slowly covering her nest, she gradually moved forward. Certainly, this was a once in a lifetime experience for us.

When the nest was covered with sand, she turned around to head back to the Gulf of Mexico.

All the movements on the beach seemed like a struggle for her, moving a few feet and stopping to rest. The weight of gravity out of water made it so hard for her to move. Then the final closing moments came shortly after midnight as we cheered her back to her home in the moonlit waters of the Gulf.

The next day walking the beach, as had become my morning ritual, the turtle crews were busy at their task of marking off the nest.

Vacationing on Anna Maria Island will always hold special memories. Now it will be remembered fondly as the place of a once-in-a-lifetime experience shared with my wife and our lifelong friends. What a great place to call home.

Joe McClash lives in Bradenton and serves as the Manatee County commissioner for the at-large District 7. He owns property on Anna Maria Island.


Nesting by the numbers

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch reported 150 loggerhead sea turtle nests and 96 false crawls on the beach as of Aug. 10.

AMITW also reported 1,603 hatchlings have headed out to sea thus far this season.

Nesting season continues through October.