Rescued hatchlings released to the sea
|The crowd forms a semi-circle on the shore at Coquina Beach to watch the release of hatchling sea turtles. Applause, as is routine, came when the last turtle swam into the Gulf of Mexico.|
A crowd of well wishers gathered Sept. 10 to wave goodbye to about 150
baby loggerhead sea turtles rescued from raccoons and released in the
Gulf of Mexico.
“Oh, I just never get tired of this,” said
Islander Lucille Claybourne.
The hatchlings, tiny, dark spots on the
wet sand, crawled to the sea,
One observer said, “They look like
“I can hardly see them, except for
the movement,” another said.
Night had fallen on Sept. 10. The shadows
were gone. The only light on the sand at Coquina Beach
near 10th Street South came from the stars and moon filtered through
a mass of clouds, but for an occasional headlight in the parking lot
and an occasional infra-red light flashing on top of a camera.
The crowd that formed to watch the release
of the hatchlings grew from about six people at 7:30
p.m. to as many as 50 people by 8:15 p.m.
The first people to arrive anxiously paced
along the water. Little was left of the sunlight.
“This was No. 1 on our
list of ‘must
do’ stuff,” said Maine vacationer Sally Hat. “New England has
certain coastal traditions and we wanted to experience this Florida tradition.”
the summer, female loggerhead sea turtles return to
their Island nesting ground to lay eggs, as many as 100 to a nest. Some
60 days after a nest is made, the eggs hatch and the young bubble through
the sandy pit and crawl to the Gulf.
A group of vacationers from southern
California arrived. They heard chatter about a “turtle release” at
Cafe on the Beach restaurant earlier in the day. When a release is to take place,
a buzz goes up and down the Island, mostly along the beach.
“My son just is going
crazy to see it,” said Louis Smith, as several Anna Maria Island Turtle
Watch leaders walked across Gulf Drive carrying white plastic buckets.
The buckets contained
the baby turtles — about
150 hatchlings, many of them collected after raccoons had ripped open the hatchlings’ shells.
Raccoons, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,
destroy tens of thousands of sea turtle eggs in the state each year, digging
up and destroying more than 75 percent of the nests on some beaches.
a history of raccoons disturbing the nests at Coquina Beach, though they aren’t
nearly as destructive as elsewhere in the state, according to Turtle Watch.
During the release last Monday,
Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox asked the
audience to turn off the flashes on their cameras, because the artificial
light can disorient the turtles.
She then asked
the crowd to form a semi-circle, creating an open area
at the water’s edge
for the hatchlings to crawl into the Gulf.
Fox and others with Turtle Watch, which
monitors sea turtle nesting on the Island from May
through October, gently tipped the buckets and coaxed the hatchlings
to the sand.
“They need to walk on
this west coast sand,” Fox said.
The observers kept quiet as turtles made
tracks toward the Gulf waters. When the last caught
a wave that pulled it into the Gulf, cheers and applause rippled through
of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” said a teary-eyed Amee
Cassidy of Chicago.
Nesting, by the numbers
As of Sept. 16, Anna Maria Island Turtle
Watch had counted 141 sea turtle nests. AMITW also reported
7,123 hatchlings emerged from 99 nests.
Turtle nesting season, which began May 1,
ends when the last nest hatches, or about Oct. 31.