Tag Archives: Wildlife

Sea turtles lag behind, shorebirds fill in action

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AMITW volunteers place eggs in hand-made nests May 21 on the beach in Anna Maria. The eggs were relocated from Holmes Beach due to an upcoming renourishment project that will pump fresh sand from offshore to the beach from 78th Street to Longboat Pass. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
AMITW volunteer shorebird monitor Demi Harms, left, and executive director Suzi Fox, observe a scoop of pre-nesting black skimmers May 23 on the beach in Holmes Beach. The pair placed signs warning beachgoers to steer clear of the birds. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
A black skimmer squawks on the beach in Bradenton Beach. Islander File Photo

People expect turtles to be slow.

But this year, the sea turtles that nest on Anna Maria Island are moving slower than usual, according to Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director.

“We’re a little behind this time last year,” Fox said May 21. “But there is still plenty of time.”

As of May 21, AMITW reported 34 loggerhead nests on island beaches within the Manatee County beach renourishment project zone, which extends from 78th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass.

On the same day in 2019, there were 51 nests reported islandwide.

Fox said the lower numbers could be due to the red tide crisis that overlapped with the 2018 nesting season. She said it was supposition on her part, and scientists would not know the effects of the 2018 red tide bloom until several more years of research are conducted. But based on the number of mature females — and loggerheads reach sexual maturity at about 35 years old — that died from red tide in 2018, nesting numbers could be lower in 2020.

“It would be terrible if we lost that many of our girls to red tide,” Fox said. “Right now, there is no clear reason for low numbers. Hopefully, it picks up in June.”

But Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial launch for summer on the island, closed out the first month of nesting.

This year, with coronavirus restrictions recently lessened, revelers packed the beach the long weekend of May 23-25 and, now into the summer months, visitors to island beaches must share the shoreline with nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.

This means cleaning up trash, filling in holes in the sand and removing beach gear, including chairs, canopies and inflatables at the end of the day, according to standards set by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and reinforced by city codes.

A scoop of about 100 black skimmers — black-and-white birds with a splash of orange on their beaks — was starting to mate the week of May 25.

These birds must not be disturbed, according to Fox.

“It would be really great to have a nesting colony,” Fox said. “So we really want people to give the birds a wide berth and not chase them.”

Fox said AMITW planned to place signs warning people to distance themselves from the skimmers.

And sea turtles also need their space.

Female sea turtles only venture ashore to nest, so any objects — including people — in their path can distract them and lead to a failed nesting attempt — a false crawl.

Flashlights and cellphone lights from people walking the beach at night also can be distracting for sea turtles.

“Following nesting sea turtles with your phone is a no-no,” Fox said. “People need to stay back 100 feet.”

In 2019, AMITW broke its record for loggerhead nests with 535 loggerhead and nine green sea turtle nests by the end of season. Fox is hopeful this will be another record-breaker for island sea turtles.

“Nesting could pick up any day now,” Fox said. “So people must remember to be on their best behavior and clean up after themselves. Our wildlife depends on it.”

Report sick, injured, endangered, entangled or dead sea turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone or text tip@myfwc.com.

For more information about turtle watch, Fox can be reached during the day at 941-778-5638 or visit islandturtlewatch.com.

Turtle watch paces the race

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Bob and Debbie Haynes, Anna Maria Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers, photograph and collect data on a loggerhead nest spotted April 27 in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

The sea turtles that nest on Anna Maria Island are taking their time.

“It’s slow, but that’s not surprising,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said May 14. “It’s still early.”

Fox said there have been 14 loggerhead nests spotted on island beaches since a turtle watch volunteer discovered the first nest of the season April 24 — about a week before the official start of the season May 1.

Fox said an influx of nesting occurred May 10-11, then slowed down.

“But the turtles that nested are probably going to come back and nest again in a couple weeks, so we will see another surge,” she added.

Mature female sea turtles can nest 3-6 times — usually about two weeks apart and on the same beach — in a season, according to data from the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Due to a planned Manatee County beach renourishment project that could overlap with nesting or hatching, turtle watch volunteers must remove and relocate the eggs laid within the project zone to hand-dug nests outside the renourishment zone.

The plans call for pumping sand ashore from 78th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass. Nests laid within that stretch of beach are being relocated to beaches north of Peppertree Lane in Anna Maria so as not to be inundated by sand from the project.

To accomplish the relocation, Fox and about 15 volunteers patrol the beach by ATV just after sunrise to spot tracks leading to nests laid overnight. AMITW volunteers photograph the original nest and collect data, including GPS data.

Next comes the delicate process of relocation.

According to AMITW’s permit with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, turtle watch volunteers must relocate eggs into a new nest by 9 a.m. the morning the original nest was found.

Each nest contains about 100 eggs, each roughly the size of a pingpong ball.

“You can’t just pull them out in handfuls and give them a toss,” Fox said. “You have to try to keep them in the same position you pulled them out.”

She said within 12 hours of being deposited into the sand by a mature female sea turtle, the embryo of an egg adheres to the inside of the shell. Jostling the fluid within could drown the embryo.

She said one volunteer pulls the eggs out of the nest, keeping them in the same direction in which they were laid, while another carefully places them in a bucket, also facing the same way.

For loggerheads, volunteers must dig a 24-inch-deep cavity for the new nest. For green sea turtles, a larger species that nests less frequently on the island, the holes must be 36 inches deep. Fox said a replacement nest should match the shape and size of the original nest.

“You’ve got to duplicate the mama turtle,” she said. “If she laid it on an angle, you’ve got to dig it on an angle.”

She said the FWC tracks information provided by turtle watch and, when nests start hatching in 45-70 days, hatch rates will be considered.

“If only two-thirds of the nests we relocated hatch, we will need to work with them and evaluate what happened,” Fox said.

But Fox said she is pleased with how the relocation work thus far has gone.

By the end of last nesting season, Oct. 31, 2019, turtle watch reported a record-breaking 535 loggerhead and nine green sea turtle nests on AMI.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Fox said. “But we’ve got a really strong team to help pull off another great season.”

For more information, visit islandturtlewatch.com.

Changes in protocol could be new normal for turtle watch

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Kathy Noonan, Anna Maria Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteer, prepares May 7 to place loggerhead eggs removed from a nest in Holmes Beach in a hand-dug nest north and landward of the prospective beach renourishment project. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring is trying new methods.

And they appear to be working.

Due to concerns over exposure to the novel coronavirus, as well as an upcoming Manatee County beach renourishment project that could overlap with nesting season, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox opted to patrol the beach by ATV and limit the pool of volunteers for the 2020 season, which officially started May 1.

In the past, about 18 volunteers would take to the beach on foot each morning just after sunrise May 1-Oct. 31 to look for signs of sea turtle activity — mostly flipper tracks remaining in the sand from the night before. Each volunteer would walk one or two days, with about 100 volunteers walking each week.

This year, AMITW is patrolling the beaches on three ATVs and 15 volunteers are sharing the duties.

Fox started the season with two people per ATV and one volunteer digging new nests on the beach outside of the renourishment zone for relocated eggs.

Since then, she’s trained several more people to rotate the activities, including marking nests with stakes and ribbons, digging new nests for the 100-plus-or-minus eggs in a clutch that require relocation and transferring the pingpong-ball size eggs to human-made nests.

Nests laid on beaches that are part of the prospective project — from 78th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass — are being relocated to avoid being covered with sand pumped from offshore to build up the eroded shoreline. Sea turtle eggs incubate 45-70 days. And a surplus of sand atop a nest could prevent hatchlings from emerging onto the sandy surface and crawling to the Gulf of Mexico.

So turtle watch is relocating the eggs into nests dug by volunteers on beaches north and landward of the project, per Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers instruction. The Corps helped fund the beach renourishment project.

The county had not released a start date for the renourishment as of May 7, although the mymanatee.com website stated the project could start in May and continue through September.

Fox said since fewer volunteers are on the beach more frequently, the process of spotting nests and collecting data is streamlined, with volunteers getting more “on-the-job training.”

“The new process is going very, very smoothly,” Fox said May 7. “We never miss a crawl, and we never miss eggs now. We are just getting more experience.”

She said most sea turtle patrols on other beaches in the state run patrols on ATV.

Additionally, Fox said beachgoers, which have increased since the county opened the public beaches May 4, have respected social distancing guidelines and let turtle watch do its job.

“Everybody is standing back and we stay 10-15 feet away and wear masks if we do encounter people,” she said.

As of May 7, there were five nests and eight false crawls — failed nesting attempts — on island beaches.

By the end of last nesting season, Oct. 31, 2019, turtle watch reported a record-breaking 535 loggerhead and nine green sea turtle nests.

Fox said if the new way of patrolling the beach continues to work well through the end of season, she likely will employ the same method next season.

“Overall, it’s a much more efficient way to conduct nesting surveys,” she said. “Especially considering the times.”

For more information, visit islandturtlewatch.com.

 

Beach renourishment, turtle watch funding

The funding has to come from somewhere.

Manatee County is anticipating two beach renourishment projects, planned for May-September.

One project will run from 78th Street North in Holmes Beach to about Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach. Federal funding from the Army Corps of Engineering will pay 59.05% of the projected $20.5 million cost and the remaining 40.95% will be split between the state and county.

Of the cost for the southern renourishment, which will begin at Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach and end at Longboat Pass, $2.65 million will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $1.1 million will be split evenly by the state and county.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch receives $59,823.50 annually from the county, with $38,000 allocated for the executive director’s salary. The remainder funds various activities and equipment for nesting surveys.

AMITW’s contract with the county was renewed in 2019 for three years.

New ‘safer’ practices launch with 2020 sea turtle season

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Skip Coyne, AMITW volunteer, holds loggerhead eggs removed from a nest April 30 at the Manatee Public Beach, Holmes Beach. The eggs were relocated to a human-made nest in the sand. Islander Photos: Courtesy AMITW
Tracks made by a loggerhead sea turtle lead to a nest at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach in the path of the planned beach renourishment project. AMITW removed and relocated the eggs to a safer spot.

Sea turtle nesting season has begun on Anna Maria Island.

Two nests, both in Holmes Beach, were documented as of April 30.

And Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring is operating with new “safer” protocols.

It is up to AMITW to keep future hatchlings — and volunteers — out of harm’s way and collect data for Manatee County government and state and federal agencies.

In 2020, those tasks may present a challenge, but whether the sea turtles know it or not, we’re safer at home, even if home is in the Gulf of Mexico.

In April, Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, was patrolling the beach with four people on two ATVs, limiting volunteers and contact with people on the beach due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

She anticipated nesting could start early due to warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.

However, Fox already had planned to limit the pool of 67 trained turtle watch volunteers to seven people on four ATVs as of May 1, the official start of nesting season on the island, to speed up and refine the data collection process during a planned beach renourishment project, which may overlap with nesting season.

Nests laid on beaches that are part of the project — from 78th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass — must be relocated to avoid being covered with sand pumped from an offshore seabed to restore eroded beaches.

The county had not released a start date for the project as of May 1, although its website stated plans to “begin in May 2020 at the earliest and continue through September 2020.”

Previously, AMITW divided island beaches into nine sections, each about a mile long. Two volunteers would walk each section up and back again every morning during season, which lasts through October.

This year, turtle watch split the beaches into three sections, not including the beaches north of 78th Street in Holmes Beach or the Anna Maria bayfront, which are not part of the renourishment project.

Usually, AMITW documents every nest spotted on the island. This year, nests outside of the project area will not be marked with stakes and tape, but turtle watch will track the dates laid and locations.

The first nest of the season, found April 21, was discovered on the beach near Coconut Avenue in Anna Maria, past the data collection point.

If a sea turtle nests inside the project area, turtle watch volunteers collect data on the nest, including GPS coordinates, while another volunteer digs a replacement nest farther north and landward, where the eggs are placed. The new nest is staked off for protection and data collection.

Fox said the relocated nests will be spread out over about a half-mile to a mile of beach near the north end of the island.

“We don’t put them all in one place because the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does not want us to put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak,” Fox said. She added that fewer nests would be destroyed by a storm or predation if they are not all in the same location.

In 2019, by the end of nesting season Oct. 31, turtle watch reported a record-breaking season, with 535 loggerhead and nine green sea turtle nests.

“We are expecting another busy year,” Fox said. “We must be fast and thorough to safely collect data and relocate nests. But we are up to the challenge.”

For more information, visit islandturtlewatch.com.

Nesting sea turtles coming soon, preparations underway

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Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, holds up a sign April 17 that she uses to ask people to stay 10 feet from the AMITW ATV. The organization was practicing social distancing while on patrol for sea turtle nests. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Any day now. Any night.

It’s almost sea turtle time on Anna Maria Island.

And, as in years past, code officers in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach are working with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring to ensure the beaches are ready for nesting sea turtles.

For turtle watch and the code departments, duties must be managed within the constraints of social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Season officially starts May 1, and data collection begins for AMITW when the first nest is discovered, but executive director Suzi Fox has been patrolling the beach on an ATV each morning since April 1, looking for signs of activity.

Fox said April 15 that turtle watch made changes in the volunteer team’s activities due to the coronavirus pandemic. She said she plans to limit her crew of volunteers from 67 people walking the beach to eight people on four ATVs looking for nests in the morning. They plan to stake the nests and perform data collection.

In 2019, a record-breaking 535 loggerhead and nine green sea turtle nests were documented on the island. The first loggerhead nest was spotted May 1 at the south end of the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

South of AMI on Sanibel Island, the first nest of the 2020 nesting season was laid by a loggerhead April 15.

“The girls are here and they are looking to come in and nest,” Fox said.

She placed signs on turtle watch ATVs the week of April 13 asking people to keep their distance during patrols and suggesting looking for the organization website at islandturtlewatch.com as a resource.

“The safety of the volunteers is the most important thing,” she said. “So the best thing the public can do for us — and themselves — is to stay back when you see us on the beach and go to the website or call with questions.”

The safety of sea turtles is a different matter.

An adult female sea turtle only leaves the water to dig a deep cavity on the beach, where she deposits a clutch of about 100 eggs. Sea turtles use their instincts — honed over more than 100 million years — to follow the light from the reflection of the moon and stars on the surface of the water to return to the Gulf of Mexico.

The same instincts guide hatchlings to the water when they emerge as a “spume” from the clutch to the sandy surface, where they crawl to the Gulf of Mexico.

But either journey — from beach to sea or back again —can be disrupted by lights visible to the sea turtle from the shoreline, or impediments such as beach equipment, tents, canopies, chairs and rafts, left on the shore overnight.

This means lighting visible from the shoreline must be sea turtle-friendly, with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved bulbs in low, shielded fixtures. It includes interior lights that must be shaded by blinds, curtains or tinted glass. And the nesting beach must be free of potential barriers to the sea turtles.

During nesting season, which runs through Oct. 31, code compliance in the three cities follow FWC guidelines and enforce state and local ordinances that provide safety for sea turtles and people.

Fox said most beachfront lighting appeared in compliance the week beginning April 13, as code officers in the three cities were off to an early start on lighting inspections.

But a lack of visitors and occupants in beachfront properties due to the limits of COVID-19 orders, also meant less lighting was visible from beachfront properties.

JT Thomas, Holmes Beach code compliance supervisor, said the order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibiting vacation rentals of less than 30 days through April 30 resulted in fewer noncompliant lights.

But that could change when the prohibition is lifted.

“There aren’t so many people out here, but that could shift,” Thomas said April 15. “Right now, everything is a moving target. So we will stay vigilant.”

Robin Evangelisto, Holmes Beach code enforcement officer, said code officers would typically attend an annual training session hosted by the Sea Turtle Conservancy of Gainesville, before nesting season starts. This year, due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, the in-person training was postponed. As a result, Evangelisto is setting up a training session via Zoom for city staff, using a PowerPoint presentation with conservancy materials.

“Things are up in the air, but we’re still doing what we need to be doing,” Evangelisto said. “We’ve got this.”

 

Do’s and don’ts for sea turtle nesting season, beginning May 1

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends people follow these guidelines for sea turtle safety:

  • DO turn off or adjust lighting along the beachfront to prevent nesting sea turtles from becoming disoriented and moving toward the glow of light on land, instead of natural light reflecting on the surface of the water. Indoor lights should be turned off, with curtains closed after dark, and outdoor lighting should be turtle-friendly bulbs. Use fixtures low to the ground and shielded from view at the shoreline.
  • DON’T use flashlights or camera flashes on the beach at night. They can distract nesting sea turtles and cause them to return to the water.
  • DO clear the way at the end of the day. Nesting female sea turtles can become trapped, confused or impeded by gear left on the beach at night. Remove items such as boats, tents, rafts and beach furniture and fill in holes or level sandcastles before dusk. Holes trap turtles and can injure people.

Call code enforcement to report unattended property or large holes on the beach.

City of Anna Maria code enforcement — 941-708-6130, ext. 139 or ext. 129.

City of Bradenton Beach code enforcement — 941-778-1005, ext. 280.

City of Holmes Beach code enforcement — 941-708-5800, ext. 247.

Report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline, at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

For more information on nesting season, contact Fox at suzifox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

Tests reveal dangerous pollution in Bradenton Beach waters

People are being advised to think twice before swimming on the bayfront in Bradenton Beach.

Dangerous levels of enterococcus — a bacteria commonly found in human and animal feces — were found in three tests taken along the Sarasota Bay waterfront at Bridge Street and Bay Drive South over the past two weeks, according to a Feb. 14 news release from the nonprofit Suncoast Waterkeeper.

One sample discovered more than 24,000 colony-forming units per liter, an estimate for the number of bacteria capable of reproducing in the sample. Other samples reached 1,670 and 4,884 cfu/L.

The Florida Department of Health regards enterococcus levels exceeding 70 cfu/L as unsafe for human contact, so the samples ranged from 24-340 times the threshold. The DOH posts a no-swim advisory if one of the public beaches it monitors tests higher than 70 cfu/L.

The tested area is located at the base of the Historic Bridge Street Pier at the end of Bridge Street, which also is near the anchorage in the waters to the south and the Bridge Tender Inn ashore.

“We are aware we had a problem, and we are about to start testing ourselves, so we can get to the bottom of it,” Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said in the release. “You know we believe in the importance of clean, healthy waters. We have the clam project and living shoreline in progress. We just didn’t know it was this bad.”

Suncoast is a nonprofit that tests water quality in 11 locations other than the public beaches the DOH monitors weekly to cover “other areas used recreationally that are representative of our inshore coastal waters,” according to the release.

The nonprofit uses Palmetto-based Benchmark Enviroanalytic Laboratory to analyze samples.

“We are not pointing fingers here,” Suncoast Waterkeeper Andy Mele wrote. “We are concerned that there could be a public health program, and we will be working with the Manatee County DOH and the Bradenton Beach government to help identify the sources and resolve the problem.”

Osprey nests atop Bradenton Beach cell tower

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An osprey, a fish-eating bird of prey, sits Feb. 5 in the nest it made atop the cell tower in Bradenton Beach. Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale told The Islander Feb. 3 the osprey nest will remain undisturbed on the structure unless the tower needs repairs. In 2017, an osprey nest was removed from the tower because Hurricane Irma left the tower damaged. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

Lot clearing halted for nesting herons in Holmes Beach

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A great blue heron watches over at least one fledgling Feb. 4 in a nest in an Australian pine tree in the 500 block of 56th Street in Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
Holmes Beach code compliance officer Robin Evangelisto takes photos and video Feb. 3 of a great blue heron nest atop an Australian pine tree in Holmes Beach. Per federal law, Evangelisto issued the property owners a stop work order until the birds have left the nest.

Protecting the balance between development and wildlife is a priority on Anna Maria Island.

In mid-January, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth notified code compliance of an active blue heron nest in an Australian pine tree where a home was demolished and the bayfront lot was being cleared in the 500 block of 56th Street in Holmes Beach.

Since then, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was notified and lot cleanup has stopped until the birds leave the nest. A nest is active if it contains eggs or fledglings.

Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to tamper with nests containing eggs or fledglings. Breaking the law can result in a $15,000 federal fine.

Owners Patrick and Daria Grinenko and contractor Moss Builders claimed they did not know the nest existed when construction started.

Code compliance officer Robin Evangelisto issued a temporary notice of violation and stop work order Jan. 14 to the property owner and awaited review by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Evangelisto observed the nest with FWC officer Jason Dalton, who confirmed there was a female heron with fledglings but could not confirm the type of heron.

So she photographed and videotaped the bird and sent it to FWC biologist Nick Jennings, who confirmed the bird is a great blue heron.

“You may continue to clear the lot so long as you do not cause take to the great blue herons,” Jennings wrote in a Jan. 24 email to Evangelisto, the Grinenkos and Moss Builders.

Under the federal act, “take” is “attempting to take, pursuing, hunting, molesting, capturing or killing any wildlife or freshwater fish, or their nests or eggs.”

Jennings wrote that flushing the bird from its nest, forcing the abandonment of the chicks, would qualify as “molesting.”

Evangelisto said Feb. 3 that the city doesn’t want to take chances that continued work on the site could disrupt the nesting birds. So a notice will remain until the fledglings have left the nest, but the property owner will not be cited unless the stop work order is violated.

“We just have to wait and see,” she said. “Once we know the fledglings are gone and we know that mom has moved on, we will give the OK.”

Turtle watch plans season around beach renourishment

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Equipment lines the shore at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach during a 2013 Manatee County renourishment project. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
Heather Roles, left, and Lee Zerkel, volunteers with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, relocate eggs to a new, manmade nest during a 2013 beach renourishment project.

The loggerhead sea turtles that nest on Anna Maria Island could share space with bulldozers this spring and summer.

A beach renourishment project, slated to begin in April and last for six months, will overlap with sea turtle nesting season, which runs May-October on the island shoreline.

The Manatee County Board of Commissioners voted in October 2019 to approve two beach renourishment projects in 2020.

The projects replace sand lost through erosion by piping sand from an offshore seabed to the beach. The work will start at 78th Street North in Holmes Beach and continue southward to the tip of the island at Longboat Pass.

The county initially planned renourishment to start in February — lessening the intersection between the projects and sea turtle nesting season.

However, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox said she expects the project to start in April and she’s prepared a plan to work with the county and other government agencies that rely on the organization’s reports, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Fox said she must coordinate with the county about where and when sand will be placed to avoid covering sea turtle nests.

She said the process will be similar to when the island was hit with several months of severe red tide in 2017, leading to daily cleanups that included raking with a tractor on the beach, orchestrated by the county.

Turtle watch worked hand-in-hand with the county to ensure no nests were disturbed.

AMITW also may need to relocate nests to avoid disturbances during renourishment.

After the nests are verified for eggs, volunteers will dig from the sand about 100 eggs — about the size of pingpong balls — and place them in a new, hand-dug cavity, with locations to be determined by the FWC.

Fox said all nests through 2022 must be checked for eggs, due to the project.

Fox also said she will be cutting back her troupe of volunteers from 78 to 48, as less walkers but those with more experience will be needed during renourishment. Morning patrols to look for nests laid the night
before will be conducted by ATV until the projects end.

Fox said turtle watch has been dealing with renourishment projects since 1992, so “this is nothing new.”

“Once this gets going, we will have to move swiftly, as will the county,” she said. “Timing will be crucial.”

Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s parks and natural resources director, said he is confident AMITW and the county operation will work in concert.

“Turtle watch is prepared to do their best effort,” Hunsicker said Jan. 29. “They will operate under FDEP and FWC allowances to work with us to protect the turtle and shorebird resources during the life of the project.”

Shark attacks remain low globally but increase in Florida

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A blacktip shark is the species most often implicated in Florida bites, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program. Islander Courtesy Photo

Shark attacks were unusually low for the second year running, with 64 unprovoked bites in 2019, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.

The total was roughly in line with 2018’s 62 bites and about 22% lower than the most recent 5-year average of 82 incidents a year, according to a news release on the UF database.

Two of the bites were fatal, a drop from the average of four deaths a year from unprovoked attacks a year.

Consistent with long-term trends, the United States led the world in shark attacks with 41 bites, an uptick from 32 the previous year, but significantly lower than the nation’s 5-year average of 61 bites annually.

Attacks were mostly concentrated in the Southeast, with 21 in Florida, a state that has led the world in the number of shark attacks for decades.

The state’s 21 unprovoked bites represented an increase from 16 the previous year and accounted for 33% of the global total.

Volusia County had the most shark bites with nine, followed by Duval, five, and Brevard, two, with single attacks in Broward, Martin, Nassau, Palm Beach and St. Johns counties.

No bites were reported from Manatee County in 2019, which has had four confirmed unprovoked shark attacks since 1982, according to the database.

Hawaii saw a small spike in attacks, with nine in 2019 compared with three the previous year.

California and North Carolina had three shark attacks each. Single bites occurred in Georgia, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and the Virgin Islands.

Massachusetts, where two great white sharks attacked in 2018 with one fatality, had no incidents in 2019.

New York, where two bites occurred within minutes of one another in 2018, also had no attacks.

The decline globally may reflect changes in the migration patterns of blacktip sharks, the species most often implicated in Florida bites, said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program.

“We’ve had back-to-back years with unusual decreases in shark attacks and we know that people aren’t spending less time in the water,” Naylor said in the release. “This suggests sharks aren’t frequenting the same places they have in the past. But it’s too early to say this is the new normal.”

The ISAF investigates all reported human-shark interactions but focuses its annual report on unprovoked attacks, which are initiated by a shark in its natural habitat with no human provocation.

 

By the numbers

Australia had the second-most shark attacks globally with 11, a decrease from the country’s most recent 5-year average of 16 bites annually.

The Bahamas followed, with two attacks.

Single bites occurred in the Canary Islands, the Caribbean Islands, Cuba, French Polynesia, Guam, Israel, Mexico, New Caledonia and South Africa, once a hotspot for shark attacks.

— Lisa Neff