Tag Archives: Wildlife

Holmes Beach says ‘time will tell’ for Spring Lake improvement

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A bird stands Oct. 10 next to a drain pipe on the southwest corner of Spring Lake in Holmes Beach. The presence of birds and minnows indicates the lake is recovering, according to Eran Wasserman, city director of development services.
Bubbling at the surface of Spring Lake Oct. 10 indicates the aeration system is operating. The city recently began aerating 24-7 to improve conditions. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Minnows swim Oct. 10 near the surface of Spring Lake in Holmes Beach. An aeration system activated Sept. 17 killed some fish in the lake, which appears to be recovering from the shock of activation.

Spring Lake in Holmes Beach is showing signs of improvement.

Minnows swam Oct. 10 near the surface of the lake and, though the water was brown, it no longer strongly smelled of sulfur. An aeration system was activated Sept. 17 to circulate stagnant water and infuse the lake with oxygen.

Upon activation of the system, the lake, surrounded by homes between 68th and 70th streets, became murky, smelly and more than 1,000 fish died, prompting complaints from lakeside residents and property owners.

Eran Wasserman, the city’s director of development services, said the city started running the aeration system around the clock Oct. 10, compared with six hours nightly for several weeks prior.

Wasserman said the city would test water quality at the end of the month and again in January.

However, he said the first test might be premature, as the lake requires time to recover.

“It just takes time to tell if it’s working,” Wasserman said. “We just have to wait and see.”

The lake bottom has about 3 feet of accumulated sludge and suffers the impact of a sewage spill in 2015, when about 22,000 gallons of waste from a broken Manatee County sewer line entered the lake. After the spill, the county provided the city and the health department with reports indicating the lake was healthy. Subsequent testing determined the muck on the lake bottom mostly is algae, which digests pollutants, but requires oxygen.

The city installed the aeration system to circulate oxygen and break down the sludge.

However, lakefront residents were alarmed after the system activation, when the lake condition became dire.

At an Oct. 8 commission meeting, Terry Schaefer, a candidate in the Nov. 5 commission election, said a water quality expert retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offered to consult with the city about the lake and provide an analysis at no cost. Schaefer said his friend would want access to reports on the lake.

Mayor Judy Titsworth suggested Schaefer ask his friend to contact Wasserman.

The next city commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Gulls die, but why? List of possibilities runs long

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Ed Straight, owner of Wildlife Inc., holds a sick laughing gull brought Oct. 9 to his Bradenton Beach rehab center. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
A trio of laughing gulls, suffering from an unidentified illness, convalesce Oct. 9 at Wildlife Inc. in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
A dead laughing gull Oct. 8 on Passage Key north of Anna Maria Island. Islander Photo: Courtesy Jeanie Bystrom

Theories on the cause of a rash of sick and dead laughing gulls from those in the know are long on speculation and short on science.

A few dozen dead laughing gulls were found the week of Oct. 7 on Anna Maria Island and Passage Key. Also, at least two dozen dead laughing gulls were found in Sarasota County.

Wildlife rescuers, environmental scientists and red tide researchers speculated on the causes of the deaths — including botulism or red tide — but further puzzling is why only one species is being affected.

Ed Straight, the founder of Wildlife Inc., a rescue and rehab organization based in Bradenton Beach, received a tip Oct. 8 that gulls were found dead on Passage Key, the national wildlife refuge on a spit of land north of Anna Maria Island. The refuge was established in 1905 to help preserve nesting colonies of native seabirds and wading birds.

At Straight’s request, Jeannie Bystrom, a wildlife advocate who dedicates time rescuing birds entangled in fishing line, boated to Passage Key with her son. There, they found laughing gull carcasses — 23 dead birds — strewn across the beach and the vegetation. They found one bird alive and took it to Straight.

“It didn’t make it through the night,” Straight told The Islander Oct. 9.

Around 7 a.m. Oct. 9, Straight took in a sick gull — it also died — from Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

Later, when he went to Anna Maria to retrieve a sick bird near the city pier construction site, Straight saw another dead laughing gull in the parking lot.

Earlier in October, more than two dozen sick laughing gulls were found on Siesta and Lido keys. They were taken to the Save our Seabirds facility on City Island, which is near Mote Marine Laboratory at the south end of Longboat Key.

More than half of those birds died in the first 24 hours, according to Jonathan Hande, a senior hospital technician at SOS. Meanwhile, nine more birds died on two Sarasota County beaches.

Straight, who with wife Gail has rescued and rehabbed wildlife for decades, called the laughing gull deaths “really weird.”

“Gail thinks maybe it’s a virus that’s just affecting the one species,” Straight said. Or, he wondered, perhaps the birds are feeding on a bad or rotting food source.

Straight told The Islander he thought the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was going to retrieve some birds from Passage Key for testing.

Michelle Kerr, the FWC Research Institute’s public information specialist, wrote an Oct. 11 email to The Islander: “FWC’s veterinarians have been in contact with Save Our Seabirds and are facilitating a shipment of specimens for testing to a diagnostic lab.”

However, the disposition of the Passage Key specimens remained unclear, and Kerr could not confirm if birds were retrieved by the FWC.


Scientists, others weigh in

Beth Forys is a professor of environmental science and biology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. She is well-versed in the physiology and habits of laughing gulls, but the mortality event has her stumped.

“It’s quite a mystery,” Forys told The Islander Oct. 9.

“Laughing gulls are usually the last species of gulls to get sick from contamination or disease. They tend to be less affected. They eat dead fish and rancid stuff all the time, while other gulls eat only live fish.”

Forys theorized the gulls are getting sick from “some other site.” Since only background concentrations of red tide have been reported in Sarasota and Manatee county waters, she doubted a harmful algae bloom was to blame.

She noted laughing gulls are much less sensitive to salmonella than other birds.

“They are just hearty birds,” Forys said. “I’m surprised it’s them.”

Save Our Seabird’s Hande said botulism might be a cause for the sickness.

“Red tide and botulism show similar symptoms,” Hande told The Islander Oct. 10. “But we have no red tide, according to the water testing, so….”

Hande said botulism poisoning spreads quickly in a bird colony, as birds ingest contaminated maggots.

“The neurological symptoms do suggest botulism,” he said.

Meanwhile, as of Oct. 11, dead and dying birds were still arriving at Wildlife Inc.

“I got four more sick gulls in yesterday,” Straight told The Islander Oct. 11.

“One from Coquina, one from the north end near the new pier again, one from somewhere else on the island and one from the Manatee River,” he reported. “One of them didn’t make it through the night.”

Straight also picked up a great white egret from the South Harbor Drive area in Holmes Beach. The bird was too weak to get out of the water.

“It’s just sitting on its haunches, not standing. Is it related? Who knows?” Straight said.

Record season, challenges

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A green sea turtle hatchling takes a close-up Sept. 30 before being transported by turtle watch volunteers to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota where it will be evaluated and released to the Gulf of Mexico. Turtle watch volunteers discovered the hatchling during a nest excavation at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photos: Courtesy AMITW
People pause to observe Sept. 30 as turtle watch volunteers Lena Whitesell, left, and Jennifer Scott, excavate a green sea turtle nest. The nest hatched Sept. 27 at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach and contained 80 hatched and six unhatched eggs, as well as two dead and two live hatchlings.

Three cheers for volunteers!

It has been another record-breaking sea turtle nesting season for Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

With 544 nests spotted on island beaches as of Oct. 4, the season broke the 2018 record of 534 nests. Nine nests were laid by green sea turtles, a less frequent visitor to the island when compared with loggerheads.

And the season officially ends Oct. 31, so volunteers still could come across a green turtle nest or two, as greens nest later in the year.

However, Suzi Fox, who, as AMITW executive director, is paid staff, said Oct. 3 the organization noted another record-breaker that it hopes not to best.

She said turtle watch volunteers documented 59 instances of mature or hatchling sea turtles being drawn away from the Gulf of Mexico by lighting visible from the shoreline — the most AMITW has documented since record-keeping began in the 1990s.

Disorientations were not included in the records maintained by volunteers in the ’90s.

In 2018, there were 50 disorientations.

After nesting or hatching, adult and hatchling sea turtles follow their instincts to the Gulf by the reflection of the moon and stars on the water’s surface. Disorientations can occur when lights visible from the shoreline draw turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration.

Early in the season, which officially began May 1, nine nesting females disoriented upon emerging from the water to nest. Through Oct. 4, as hatchlings scurried up from nests in the sand by the hundreds, 50 nests on Anna Maria Island saw 11-50 hatchlings disorientated, turning away from the Gulf of Mexico upon emergence.

Fox said many hatchlings from nests north of 80th Street in Holmes Beach traveled south down the beach for several blocks, depending on the brightness of the moon the night they hatched. In one case, hatchlings crawled more than 10 blocks.

Streetlights could be to blame, according to Fox, who is working with Florida Power and Light to install amber-colored lights not visible to sea turtles and safe for humans.

She also said lights on the roof of the Walgreens store on East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach emit sky-glow that could draw hatchlings from the beach.

Fox said she doesn’t anticipate a problem when asked Oct. 3 by The Islander about lighting at the Compass Hotel, a six-story building under construction at 12340 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, on Perico Island.

“I believe it will be too far from the beach to have any effect on the turtles,” she said, but added she would review a lighting plan for the building to be sure.

Fox said she purchased an instrument that reads sky-glow and will be learning to use the new tool and taking readings this month.

As of Oct. 4, 11 nests remained to hatch on the island and about 26,868 hatchlings had made their way to the Gulf.

Stagnant Holmes Beach lake sparks concerns, stirs action

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Dead fish float Sept. 22 in the murky water in Holmes Beach’s Spring Lake, which is undergoing aeration intended to improve water quality. Islander Photo: Chris-Ann Silver Esformes
Stagnant water and dead fish surround an outlet that runs from the southwest corner of Spring Lake under Palm Drive to the grand canal — 66th Street — along Marina Drive in Holmes Beach — but saltwater from the canal no longer flushes the lake. Islander Photos: Chris-Ann Silver Esformes

People who live on Spring Lake in Holmes Beach are concerned about their health and property values.

The lake is suffering.

At a Sept. 24 city commission meeting, Eran Wasserman, project manager for LTA engineers, the engineering firm contracted by the city, reviewed the status of the lake following resident complaints of a stench and numerous dead fish after the Sept. 17 activation of an aeration system.

The city commission approved the installation of the system to clean the brackish lake between 68th and 70th streets, which accumulated 3 feet of muck after a sewage spill in 2015. About 22,000 gallons of waste poured from a ruptured Manatee County sewer line into the lake.

Following testing in March that indicated poor water quality, the city decided to install a system that would generate millions of small air bubbles to circulate and blend the murky, salt- and freshwater mixture and vent harmful gases, allowing more oxygen absorption.

Wasserman said Sept. 24 that organic matter in the lake — dead fish and vegetation — breaks down without oxygen, resulting in muck. He said infusing the water with oxygen can break down and release gases and improve the lake water quality.

Consultant perspective

Wasserman introduced Chris Byrne, a consultant with Vertex Water Features, the company that installed the aeration system, to explain why the condition of the lake worsened after the system was activated, and what to expect as the lake aerates.

Byrne said his company took water samples from the lake that showed levels of phosphorus, nitrogen and ammonia at the bottom were 10 times higher than those at the surface.

“That’s a clear indicator that this pond is stratified and needs to be circulated,” he said. Water stratification happens when water of varied salinity, density and temperature form layers that act as barriers.

“Every now and then we come across a pond that is so bad, that even though we establish a protocol to minimize attrition of the fish, there is still some attrition,” he added.

Byrne said as the lake water circulates, the water quality readings at the surface will worsen.

“It’s just one of the growing pains you have to go through to properly circulate the lake,” he said.

Commissioner Rick Hurst asked how long it would take for the lake to recover.

Byrne said, “Every pond is different.” It could take months, he said, but the worst effects probably already occurred.

Commissioner Carol Soustek asked if running the system more frequently would speed up the process.

Byrne said that would kill more fish, but the gases would vent more quickly, leading to better water quality.

Residents speak

“Water at my house right now is greenish-brown and it looks like a sewer,” said Carol Grayson, who, along with her husband Boyd, has owned a home on the lake for six years. “The reason I’m hoarse right now is because I have asthma. The quality of the air is awful and I’m afraid I’m not even going to be able to stay here.”

Boyd Grayson also addressed the commission. He said two WaStop tidal valves installed in storm drains in 2017 between the lake and an adjacent canal to prevent tidal flow further disrupted the balance of the lake.

The drain pipes, which run under Palm Drive, allowed the lake to fill and flush saltwater from the canal.

“I just can’t imagine a better solution we could offer this lake than to let the tide back in and let 2 million gallons of water, twice a day, come through that lake and go back out,” he said. “Eventually, in the shortest period of time, that lake would be clean.”

“We all purchased our properties with a healthy, active lake as part of our value,” said Phil McDonald, also a lakefront homeowner. “Now we have a dead drainage pond as a viewshed.”

He added that the city did not send notices to people who live on the lake indicating there would be detrimental effects when the aeration system was turned on.

Tim Gibson purchased property on the lake 19 years ago. He said he chose the location above other spots on the island so he could fish for the mangrove snapper, redfish and juvenile tarpon that were present before the sewage spill.

“The fish are gone,” he said. “Manatee County killed that lake and turned it into a septic hole.”

Commission takes action

“We all want to make it right,” Mayor Judy Titsworth said. “But we can’t be wasteful of tax dollars based on fearmongering, or based on anything other than the facts. We have to rely on the professionals telling us what to do.”

She said the valves are needed to prevent flooding, and there are many lakes in the state that do not get tidal flow. They require aeration, like Spring Lake.

Titsworth said the recovery process would take time, but if the city determines the system is insufficient, the commission will consider other options, such as reopening the tidal valves.

Commission Chair Jim Kihm asked Wasserman and Byrne for recommendations.

Wasserman said he could respond to tidal flow questions, as that is city engineer Lynn Burnett’s area of expertise, and she was not in attendance.

Byrne, speaking to the aeration system, suggested running the system for seven or eight hours a night for two weeks to produce faster results.

After two weeks, he said it might be best to run the system around the clock.

The commission unanimously reached consensus to direct Wasserman to run the system throughout the night for two weeks, with water samples taken each week, before running it full-time.

Titsworth also asked Wasserman to provide the city with daily updates on the status of the lake, including visual water quality and fish kill numbers, until the lake begins to recover.

“I don’t want to solve it here, but I want a focused effort on this,” Kihm said. “And by the end of the week, I want a broader recommendation about what we are going to do in light of some of the comments we received this evening.”

Season nears end, still active

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Debbie and Henry Stachura, AMITW volunteers, collect data Sept. 22 from a green sea turtle nest that hatched Sept. 19 at Coquina Beach. The nest contained 10 unhatched eggs, 79 hatched eggs and one live hatchling that was released to the Gulf. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
Several people observe Sept. 26 as turtle watch volunteers Carl Jelovich and Dixie Lampers excavate a loggerhead nest. The nest hatched Sept. 23 on the beach near Katie Pierola Sunset Park in Bradenton Beach and contained six unhatched and 120 hatched eggs, as well as one dead and one live hatchling. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
A loggerhead hatchling is released Sept. 26 to the Gulf after being discovered by turtle watch volunteers during a nest excavation in Bradenton Beach.

Sea turtle nesting and hatching season on Anna Maria Island officially ends Oct. 31, but turtle watch is keeping busy.

“We have about one more month left of nesting time,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said Sept. 26.

She said that while mostly loggerheads nest on the island, green sea turtles nest later in the season. AMITW already has documented nine green nests — the most of any season since the organization started collecting data in 1992.

“We could still get more green nests,” Fox said, adding that AMITW has a contract with Manatee County to monitor the beaches for sea turtle and shorebird activity until Oct. 31.

Fox said as loggerhead nesting and hatching slows, turtle watch is planning for 2020, which includes promoting more effective lighting — for people and sea turtles.

She said she plans to approach Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach to update sea turtle regulations in both cities.

“They drafted them in the late ’90s, and we are entering into the year 2020,” Fox said of the rules, which require proper — sea turtle-friendly — lights and the removal of objects from the beach at night.

“There are so many advances — the people no longer have to turn out lights or switch to red bulbs. They can light their properties with brighter people and turtle-friendly bulbs.”

Fox also said she is working with Florida Power and Light to install amber-colored streetlights, as standard white lights visible from the beach may be the cause of disorientations.

Additionally, she said some of the commercial parking lot lighting near East Bay Drive and Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach emits sky-glow that could draw hatchlings away from the beach.

“We need to take the time to get everything lined up before next season begins,” Fox said. “It’s a constant work-in-progress that requires a team effort.”

As of Sept. 26, 32 nests remained to hatch on the island out of a record-breaking 544 laid since May 1, and about 26,308 hatchlings had made their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Sea turtle observers see double

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About 10 people observe Sept. 20 as turtle watch volunteers Deb and Bob Haynes excavate a loggerhead nest. The nest hatched Sept. 17 on the beach near Cypress Avenue in Anna Maria and contained 75 unhatched and 18 hatched eggs, as well as one dead hatchling. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
John and Sharon Dicks of Anna Maria pose Sept. 20 with the plaque from the loggerhead nest they adopted in honor of their soon-to-be-born granddaughter, following a nest excavation that morning. The nest hatched Sept. 17 on the beach near Cypress Avenue. The Dicks said they kept watch over it and saw the tracks made by the hatchlings leading to the Gulf of Mexico.
Beachgoers get a closer look Sept. 20 of loggerhead sea turtle eggs excavated from a nest that hatched Sept. 17 on the beach near Cypress Avenue in Anna Maria. AMITW waits 72 hours to collect data from hatched nests, then puts the empty shells and unhatched eggs back in the sand to nourish the beach.

The north end of Anna Maria Island is seeing an unusually active sea turtle nesting season.

“The numbers are just astronomical compared to what it was,” Deb Haynes, Anna Maria Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteer, said Sept. 20 of the number of sea turtle nests in her section of the beach in Anna Maria.

Haynes and her husband Bob, also a turtle watch volunteer, coordinate walkers and data collection for the 1-mile stretch of beach from North Bay Boulevard to Willow Avenue in Anna Maria, referred to by AMITW as section 2.

Deb Haynes said 2018 was their first year coordinating section 2. Last year, there were 46 nests documented in the section by end of the season, Oct. 31, compared with 94 so far in 2019.

Bob Haynes said last year a trough on the beach near the wrack-line might have deterred turtles from nesting after they crawled ashore.

“We had double the false crawl-to-nest ratio last year, compared with this year,” Deb Haynes said. “This year, we have about the same number of nests as false crawls, which is kind of normal.”

A false crawl occurs when a female sea turtle attempts to nest, but returns to the water instead.

Bob Haynes said there have been twice as many nests but the hatch rate has been significantly lower this year, likely due to heavy rains shortly after the nests were laid in June.

He said the beach in the area is very flat and water there does not drain. Therefore, the eggs could be in standing water for extended periods.

Sea turtle eggs absorb water if rain or surf fill the cavity and hatchlings can drown before they emerge.

“It’s unfortunate that something stopped the incubation,” Bob Haynes said of the findings in a recent excavation. “But, I could tell that many of the eggs near the bottom of the nests had been sitting in water.”

But loggerheads weren’t the only nesters in section 2. While loggerheads are the most common species to nest on the island, AMITW in 2019 has documented nine green sea turtle nests — the most they’ve seen since data collection began in 1992.

Two green nests were spotted in section 2.

Additionally, there were two green false crawls in the section.

The last time a green nest was spotted there was 2015, and there has never been more than one such nest documented in that area in a season.

“We’re very excited to have that happen,” Deb Haynes said. “We are not sure why they are coming this far north, but it is amazing.”

As of Sept. 20, 45 nests remained to hatch on the island out of 540 laid since May 1, and about 25,066 hatchlings had made their way to the Gulf of Mexico — adding up to another record-breaking season for the organization.

Last of 4 men in shark-dragging case takes plea deal

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Screenshots from the viral video of a shark-dragging that occurred near Egmont Key in June 2017 show three of the four men as they watched the shark being dragged behind the boat. Islander File Photos
Robert “Bo” Benac

By Kathy Prucnell and ChrisAnn Silver Esformes, Islander Reporters

The shark-dragging case that entangled four men in cries of animal cruelty for months on social media has concluded.

“The Benac case is over,” said Mike Moore, 13th Judicial Circuit Court public information officer, after the last of the three defendants charged for the June 2017 shark dragging near Egmont Key reached a plea deal.

With a court-sanctioned agreement, Robert “Bo” Benac of Bradenton was sentenced Sept. 12 to 11 months probation, 10 days in jail, $2,500 fine, 250 hours of community service — half with an animal shelter — and a three-year revocation of his fishing license, according to Moore. Benac also received credit for one day served in jail after his December 2017 arrest.

Benac’s case stems from videos posted on social media showing him with three other men, Burns Easterling, Spencer Heintz and Michael Wenzel on a June 26, 2017, fishing trip in the waters north of Anna Maria Island.

One video shows the men laughing as the shark was dragged off the back of their speeding boat. Other videos showed them spearing and shooting sharks with guns.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the state attorney offices in Hillsborough and Manatee counties spent six months investigating before filing the charges against three of the men, as public outrage on social media swelled to the governor’s office.

“He’ll start at 3 p.m. Friday,” Moore said, referring to Benac’s time in the Hillsborough County jail.

According to Moore, the felony aggravated animal cruelty charge levied for shooting a bull shark was reduced to a lesser charge and the same charge for the incident involving a blacktip shark — the dragging behind the fishing boat — was dropped.

A misdemeanor charge for violating an FWC rule that restricts methods of taking wildlife also was reduced for Benac, Moore said.

He is the son of Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac.

Wenzel, the boat’s captain, pleaded guilty in February to animal cruelty and use of an illegal method to catch a shark. He was fined $2,733.27 and sentenced to 10 days in jail and 11 months probation, including 100 hours of community service. Wenzel also lost his fishing license for five years.

Charges against Heintz were dropped by the state in May 2018 after prosecutors agreed his actions were not criminal.

Easterling cooperated with authorities and was not charged.

Annual blooms, one-night extravaganza

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About 100 buds opened overnight Sept. 10 on this night-blooming cereus cactus in a yard near the intersection of Cordova Drive and Manatee Avenue in Palma Sola Park. The tropical species usually blooms one night a year and the flowers wilt by noon the next day. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Bees buzz the large, yellowish-white blossoms Sept. 10 on a night-blooming cereus cactus. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Bortie Too update: Cruising Bahama, Cuba waters

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A Sept. 5 screenshot from conserveturtles.org shows the track taken south through the Gulf of Mexico by loggerhead Bortie Too.

A sea turtle that nested on Anna Maria Island continues to be tracked on its migration.

Named Bortie Too for sponsor Bortell’s Lounge, the loggerhead was tagged and released by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring and the Sea Turtle Conservancy after nesting June 21 on Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach, as part of the STC’s 12th annual Tour de Turtles.

Since then, the loggerhead has nested a second time on the beach in Holmes Beach and has traveled 674 miles to the seagrass beds between the Bahamas and Cuba to feed and gain strength.

AMITW’s sea turtle was in third place in the Tour de Turtles as of Sept. 5.

The tagged turtles are competing in a “marathon” that started Aug. 1 and ends Nov. 1 — a contest to see which turtle swims the farthest during a three-month survey.

Data received from the satellite tag helps marine biologists track and survey sea turtle migration behavior.

To track Bortie Too, visit: conserveturtles.org/sea-turtle-tracking-active-sea-turtles/

Record-breaking season

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Observers on the beach Sept. 3 watch volunteer Kathy Doddridge count loggerhead eggs from a nest that hatched Aug. 31 near the 2200 block of Gulf Drive South, Bradenton Beach, as volunteer Kim Rickards measures the nest cavity with a yardstick. The nest contained one unhatched and 46 hatched eggs. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Loggerhead nesting is crawling to the finish line on Anna Maria Island.

And turtle watch is reporting another record-breaking season.

As of Sept. 6, 126 nests were waiting to hatch on the island out of 535 laid since May 1, and an estimated 21,553 hatchlings have made their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2018, AMITW broke the 2017 record with 534 nests.

In August, Mote Marine Laboratory reported a record-breaking 1,326 nests on Longboat Key, with 5,063 total in the Sarasota area, including beaches on Venice, Siesta, Casey and Lido keys.

Sea turtle nesting and hatching season officially ends Oct. 31 on the island.

Until then, AMITW volunteers walk the beach each morning looking for new nests and the tiny tell-tale tracks in the sand leading from nests to the water, indicating hatched nests.

When a nest hatches, turtle watch waits 72 hours to excavate and collect data.

AMITW digs into a sea turtle nest to report data on how many eggs hatched. If there are live hatchlings, they will be released to the Gulf and any dead hatchlings or unhatched eggs are tallied.

Often, the hatchlings at the bottom of the nest are the weakest in the clutch, according to Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director.

Turtle watch and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agree they should be given a chance to survive.

“Any time a hatchling can have at least 20 minutes of life in the ocean, we want to give them that,” Fox said Sept. 6. “If they don’t make it, that’s just part of the natural order of prey and predator.”

As season marches on, hatch rates slow, Fox added.

She said nests that hatch later in season often are the second or third nest laid by the female, and they can contain fewer than the usual 90-100 eggs.

Additionally, the longer eggs incubate in the sand, the more they are exposed to standing water from rain and high tides, which can drown embryos.

However, Fox said the hatch rate was strong at the beginning of season, and hatchlings are still emerging.

“We’re having another fantastic season with strong numbers,” Fox said.

“Hatch rates slow at the end of season, but we’ve still got almost two months left for the little ones to hatch and head out to sea.”