Tag Archives: Wildlife

Bortie Too nests again

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A screenshot taken July 14 shows Bortie Too, a female loggerhead, returning to shore overnight July 13 to nest on the beach near 66th Street, behind the Mainsail Beach Inn in Holmes Beach. The sea turtle has been wearing a satellite tracking device since June 21, when it was tagged by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring and the Sea Turtle Conservancy as part of the Tour de Turtles marathon for research, after nesting on Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach. To track Bortie Too, visit conserveturtles.org/trackingmap/?id=226

A screenshot taken July 14 shows Bortie Too, a female loggerhead, returning to shore overnight July 13 to nest on the beach near 66th Street, behind the Mainsail Beach Inn in Holmes Beach. The sea turtle has been wearing a satellite tracking device since June 21, when it was tagged by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring and the Sea Turtle Conservancy as part of the Tour de Turtles marathon for research, after nesting on Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach.

To track Bortie Too, visit conserveturtles.org/trackingmap/?id=226

Trees downed at Coquina despite protest

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Piles of 97 Australian pine trees Manatee County felled to make way for a parking lot improvement project at Coquina Beach remain alongside an access road July 11. The tree stumps have yet to be removed. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

The Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency looked for the silver lining in the removal of 103 Australian pine trees from Coquina Beach.

Following Manatee County’s decision to remove more than a tenth of the beach’s 991 Australian pine trees to make way for the first phase of a Coquina parking lot drainage improvement project, CRA members said they hoped the time and budgeting is right to ask the county to join a multimodal transportation partnership with the city.

County contractors removed 97 Australian pine trees from the south parking area and along the Coquina Beach access road July 10. Six other Australian pine trees along the access road were previously removed.

The county plans to replace the Australian pine trees with 83 green buttonwood trees, 10 gumbo limbo trees and 10 shady lady black olive trees in the grass near the playground.

Bradenton Beach commissioners opposed the tree removal, which county officials said became a necessity after the city issued a construction permit for the project.

Building official Steve Gilbert said the city could not revoke the permit and stop work since the project met the city’s land development code.

While city officials failed to stop the tree removals, CRA members were excited with the prospect of getting the county on board with plans to partner on multimodal transportation improvements, namely a jitney trail for shuttling people between the parking at Coquina Beach — the biggest island parking lot — and Bridge Street.

“We can use this controversy to help move this project along,” local restaurateur Ed Chiles, an appointed member of the CRA, said at the July 10 meeting.

He added that he feels strongly against Australian pine trees, which are non-native, but the public’s outcry in opposition to their removal might help convince the county to further improve the multimodal transportation aspects of the area.

“The county wants to make sure the island is happy,” Chiles said.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said the situation may be the city’s best opportunity to realize the jitney trail project, which has been on a backburner for years.

CRA Chair Ralph Cole, a city commissioner, said the trail would lighten parking — which he said is the CRA district’s biggest issue — on Bridge Street.

Chiles motioned to direct Perry and city engineer Lynn Burnett to coordinate with county officials on plans for the project, and city commissioner Jake Spooner, a CRA member, seconded the motion. CRA members voted 6-0 to approve Chiles’ motion.

Commissioner Randy White, a CRA member, was absent with excuse.

Sea turtle season intensifies on Anna Maria Island

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Chairs were placed in the early hours of July 9 to protect an overnight loggerhead nest near 1900 Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach prior to volunteers from AMITW marking the nest. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Sea turtle season is in full swing on Anna Maria Island.

Loggerheads are nesting and hatchlings are emerging by the hundreds from nests on island beaches.

If nesting numbers continue to escalate, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring could observe a new record for sea turtle nests on the island, as it has for the past three years.

As of July 14, AMITW reported 18 hatched nests with 1,025 hatchlings to the Gulf of Mexico, compared with three hatched nests and 88 hatchlings on the same date in 2018.

Also, as of July 14, 442 loggerhead nests were documented on AMI, as compared with 430 in 2018.

The turtles nesting on Anna Maria Island’s shore mostly are loggerheads, a protected species. They nest on the beach through October, usually at night, digging a small pit, about a foot wide and 18-24 inches deep, and leaving behind about 100 eggs in the clutch to the care of Mother Nature before returning to the water.

Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said there is a problem with people on the beach at night when sea turtles emerge to nest.

“I know people are excited to see the turtles on the beach at night,” Fox said. “However, if people keep disturbing their nesting attempts, they are going to love these creatures to death.”

She said people need to maintain a distance of at least 100 feet from nesting turtles and should not use their cellphones to take photo or video of sea turtles on the beach, as it could disrupt a nesting attempt, causing the turtle to return to the water without laying eggs.

The morning of July 9, volunteers walking the beach looking for signs of nesting, spotted a circle of chairs surrounding a nest laid the night before, according to Fox.

She said when turtle watch volunteers identified the nest, the man who had placed the chairs said he used them to mark the nest because he wanted to ensure people knew it was there.

“I know he meant well, but what he didn’t realize is that by doing that he destroyed the evidence we use to determine if the turtle nested or returned to the water without laying eggs,” Fox said.

She said she is concerned that resort and rental managers are not providing guests with turtle watch materials at check-in, or talking with them about turtle nesting.

“Visitors need to see the materials that we give to island resorts and rental agencies, but they also should be told what the rules are,” Fox said.

Hatchlings, like nesting female sea turtles, emerge and follow their instincts toward the reflection of the moon and stars on the Gulf of Mexico. Light visible from the shoreline can disorient nesting turtles and hatchlings, leading to predation, dehydration, exhaustion and death.

Beachfront properties need low, shielded exterior lighting with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-compliant bulbs and indoor lights must be either turned off or concealed by curtains or blinds.

The first hatchlings of the season emerged overnight July 3, with about 25 of the turtles disorienting toward the dunes, allegedly due to lighting visible from the beach.

As of July 14, of 18 hatched nests, four have had disorientations.

Fox said property owners by law must fix noncompliant lighting, which should have been addressed before nesting season began May 1.

“Here we are in July and any lighting concerns should have been handled in April,” she said, adding that most of the problems are related to properties that have been out of compliance for years.

However, she also said new construction, including the recently renovated Anna Maria Beach Resort, on the Gulf at 6306 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach, formerly the Blue Water Beach Club, was the alleged source of one of the disorientations.

Fox is working with code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to address the issues.

“For the most part, things are going well, as evidenced by our numbers,” she said. “Now it is up to code enforcement, property owners and people who love our turtles to get us in tiptop shape.”

Algae blooms plague waterways, inch toward AMI

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Boaters on Daddy’s Time Out head out June 27 from One Particular Harbour Marina on Perico Island, where brown gumbo algae is visible in the water. The algae also produced a foul odor at the marina. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff
The algae Lyngbya wollei — known as brown “gumbo” — forms a carpet on the surface of the water in Robinson Preserve June 27. Islander Photo: Courtesy Manatee County
A floating turbidity barrier is stationed where the waters of Robinson Preserve lead out toTampa Bay, preventing further Lyngbya algae from the county park. The barrier was placed June 27. Islander Photo: Courtesy Manatee County

The mats of Lyngbya wollei, also known as brown “gumbo” algae, were so thick in the waters in Robinson Preserve June 27 that wading birds stood on them.

That’s the report Michael Elswick, manager of the natural resources division of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, forwarded his boss, Charlie Hunsicker.

Mats as thick as 12 inches and as large as two-tenths of an acre clogged the waterways at the preserve, preventing kayakers from passing through and “stopping a jon boat cold,” Elswick wrote in the email.

Lyngbya “gumbo” algae is a type of cyanobacteria or blue-green algae common in the spring-summer months around Anna Maria Island. It forms thick mats that resemble clumps of grass and sewage at the water surface, mostly in backwaters and bays.

Land management rangers and supervisors from the county natural resources department moved the brown algae, dragging large clumps to the mouth of the Manatee River and into its current.

“They corralled the algae, moved it into the tidal channel and constructed a floating turbidity barrier to keep it from coming back in,” Hunsicker told The Islander June 27.

The preserve clearing operation took about four hours.

Elswick wrote in his email to Hunsicker that people were still enjoying the preserve, despite the odor associated with brown algae, which lingered in the mangrove roots.

He also stated a caution: “I would speculate the decomposition of large volumes of algae outside Robinson waterways may act to lower dissolved oxygen further. We’re bracing for a fish kill and will act quickly to remove those as necessary.”

Some dead fish were reported June 22-24, when blue-green algae appeared in the Manatee and Braden rivers.

Blue-green troubles in local waters

Ryan McClash was standing on his dock June 23 in the Riverdale subdivision of Bradenton, talking with Suncoast Waterkeeper’s Andy Mele of Bradenton.

Blue-green algae appeared in his canal in the 4200 block of Second Avenue Northeast a week earlier. By June 23, the water was bright green.

McClash told Mele the river looked like it was dyed green.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was taking water samples from the Manatee River to determine the types of algae present, as well as toxicities.

Tests June 18 and June 20 confirmed the presence of a cyanobacteria, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, in the river, including the canal in McClash’s neighborhood. But no toxins were detected. The same algae were found at all but one of the tested river locations.

A sample taken June 19 near Ellenton was dominated by Cuspidothrix.sp, a freshwater algae that can produce toxins — but none were found in the DEP sampling.

The latest DEP samples were pulled June 27, as reports persisted and another algae, the brown“gumbo,” was clogging up the waters near the mouth of the river, as well as in the backwater, bays and sounds.

Boaters using the marina at One Particular Harbour June 26 found heavy mats of “gumbo” algae, but it had diminished the following day.

Dee Ann Miller, of the DEP press office, said the agency would continue to respond to alerts about algae and that persistent blooms would be monitored and retested.

Boat captains, scientists weigh in

“I’ve been here my whole life. I’ve never seen this,” Capt. Scott Moore said of the bright-green hue in the Manatee River, where he often leads charter fishing trips.

“It’s up the river from the Green Bridge on. Down at the mouth, no,” he said.

Moore blamed the blooms on fertilizer and nutrient runoff, as well as over-development and under-management of water issues.

“We’ve got to pass some laws. All this new development, all these septic tanks, all this fertilizing. We have to get control of this,” he said.

Cynthia Heil, director of the new Red Tide Institute at Mote Marine Laboratory, told The Islander June 27 that alga, especially freshwater types, “like the heat, love the sun and like the nutrients.”

With less rain than usual and higher than normal summer temps, conditions are ripe for blooms.

“They like a lot of sunlight and runoff. Lyngbya likes iron. Some are toxic, others not,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hunsicker is holding his breath.

“What we are seeing is a magnificent joining of sunlight, temperatures and nutrients, and some of the hottest days on record conspiring together to make a big algae bloom,” he said.

“The Saharan dust we are getting in our atmosphere has iron. All the dead fish from last year’s event went to the bottom and are still decaying. They didn’t just disappear. Mother Nature is responding,” he added.

“On the other hand, it’s not red tide. Yet.”

About algae

• Aphanizomenon flos-aquae is a species of cyanobacteria found in brackish and fresh waters around the world. It is known to produce endotoxins, the toxic chemicals released as cells die. However, not all forms of this algae are toxic.
• Cuspidothrix.sp is a species of cyanobacteria similar to A. flos-aquae. It grows in fresh and brackish waters, but is not as common or widespread and more prone to hot climates.
• Lyngba wollei is a filamentous cyanobacterium that forms thick mats on the water’s surface. It is common throughout North America, but large blooms can degrade water quality, cause skin irritation and impair natural habitats.
• Karenia brevis is the scientific name for red tide. In high concentrations, it emits toxins that can cause respiratory issues in humans and marine mammals, and can kill fish, shellfish, birds and mammals.

Turtle watch is seeing red 
this Fourth of July

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People and sea turtle nests line the beach June 25 near the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Red, white and blue color the Fourth of July.

This summer, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring is asking people to set their phones to “red” if they are on the beach after dark.

The request is not for patriotism, but for sea turtle safety.

Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said before going onto the beach at night, people should go into the “settings” menu of their smartphones and change the display to red.

“All smartphones have the capability to do this,” she said. “Just Google it.”

See red, save turtles
AMITW asks people on the beach at night to change the settings on their smartphones to a red filter, so light from the screen will not interfere with wildlife, including nesting sea turtles.
On an iPhone, go to “settings,” then “accessibility,” then scroll to “display accommodations,” select “color filters” and click “on.” From there, a red color filter can be selected.
On an Android phone, select “settings,” then “display,” and click “night light” to filter out blue light and enhance the red light.
— ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Fox said June 25 there had been five adult sea turtle disorientations this sea turtle nesting season, which began May 1 and runs through Oct. 31.

In 2018, there was one such disorientation.

Female sea turtles, which mostly nest at night, only leave the water to nest on island beaches. So any distraction on land could lead to a false crawl — a failed nesting attempt.

Fox said one type of distraction is people using their cellphones on the beach at night to follow sea turtles for photos or video. They prevent mature females from laying eggs before returning to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tracks on the beach indicate that sea turtles are leaving the water and attempting to nest, but being distracted by human interference.

“You can tell from the tracks where someone has been walking alongside a turtle, either before or after nesting,” she said. “I documented a disorientation this morning where I could see the turtle walked 200 extra feet. That’s a lot of work for a turtle to put in.”

Fox said she understands the draw for people visiting the beach at night, but the shoreline is shared with wildlife.

Also, illegal fireworks are always a concern for turtle watch, but especially on the Fourth of July, when more people are on the beach at night.

Another concern is trash left on the beach and in over-flowing receptacles at beach accesses, which can draw predators that chase nesting birds and eat eggs. Turtle watch, in addition to monitoring sea turtle nesting, monitors nesting shorebirds.

Also, gear left on the beach overnight, including canopies, tents, chairs and rafts, can be hazardous to nesting sea turtles.

Obstructions on the beach can lead to a failed nesting attempt, injury or death by drowning if the sea turtle becomes trapped underneath a chair or drags it into the water.

Fox said many locals are familiar with best beach practices, but visitors may not know the rules.

So AMITW shares informational brochures, stickers and door hangers with island resorts and vacation rentals.

Shauna Ruby, general manager at Mainsail Beach Inn, 101 66th St., Holmes Beach, said the establishment provides guests with AMITW materials, as well as warnings against illegal fireworks — not just on holiday weekends but throughout nesting season.

“Families with kids often are very excited to learn about the sea turtles,” Ruby said June 25. “We do our best to make sure they are educated about how to treat the beach and its wildlife with respect.”

Fox said the educational partnership between AMITW, residents, visitors and businesses is key to conservation.

“It’s all about education,” she said. “Once people know the results their actions could cause, they usually want to do the best they can.”

Hammerhead presence in local waters turns heads

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A photo collage of an 11- to 12-foot hammerhead hark at the dock in Cortez. The shark was found in a net under the catch of bait, where it was unintentionally entangled and died. Islander Graphic: Bonner Joy
A hammerhead shark skims the shore at Bean Point in Anna Maria. Capt. Aaron Lowman caught the photo in 2016 while tarpon fishing.

They look prehistoric, with oddly shaped heads and protruding eyes.

They unnerve seasoned mariners.

They are hammerhead sharks.

As islanders settle into hot summer days on the coast of Florida, so do hammerhead sharks.

The warm coastal waters of Anna Maria Island and South Florida serve as nurseries for the sharks, which generally arrive around March and move on by July.

Locally, the sharks feast on tarpon and stingrays.

Memorial Day weekend, one hammerhead — estimated at more than 10 feet long — swam around a boat about 100 yards off the beach of Anna Maria Island.

Corrine Lough and her family had stopped the boat and were contemplating a swim in the shallow water off Bean Point on the north end of Anna Maria Island when she saw the hammerhead.

The family filmed and then posted a video of the encounter. A social media frenzy ensued.

Also, May 28, 27 miles to the south at Nokomis, lifeguards cleared the water for an hour after a hammerhead came close to the shoreline in the swim zone.

The following day, a group of boaters with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office spotted a hammerhead off Anclote Key near Tarpon Springs. Again the shark was seen in shallow water.

Last year, a father and son filmed a hammerhead trolling the beach near Bayfront Park in Anna Maria.

According to the International Shark Attack File, a global database, 17 people have been subject to unprovoked attacks by hammerheads in the genus Sphyrna, the type found along coastal waters, since 1580.

No human fatalities have ever been recorded from hammerhead bites according to the file, the world’s only scientifically documented, comprehensive database of all known shark attacks.

Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, suggested people remember one rule: Don’t get between a shark — or any predator for that matter — and its food.

Some additional rules to stay safe:

  • Don’t swim at night and don’t swim in murky waters.

Pay attention to surroundings.

  • Don’t swim where people are fishing. You might get mistaken for bait.
  • Don’t swim among large schools of fish. Predators might be feeding.
  • Avoid brightly colored bathing suits, especially neon yellow and green. Sharks can see these colors from long distances.
  • Avoid wearing jewelry while swimming. Sunlight glinting off metal can look like scales on baitfish to predators.

Hammerheads sometimes congregate by the hundreds but tend to hunt solitarily.

Today’s odd-looking model of the hammerhead had an ancestor that likely appeared some 20 million years ago, according to livescience.com, a science news website.

So if you see one swimming off Anna Maria Island this summer, remember the hammerheads were here first.

And enjoy the show.

Turtle trackers discuss disrupted sea turtle nesting

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The first green sea turtle tracks of the 2019 nesting season are found June 3 at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW/Suzi Fox
Curled loggerhead tracks June 3 indicate a false crawl at Manatee Public Beach. “A false crawl is where a turtle comes onto the nesting beach and does not nest,” says Suzi Fox, executive director of AMITW. “People need to stay 100 feet away and stay silent if they come onto a nesting sea turtle.” Islander Photo: Courtesy Suzi Fox
Luciano Soares, research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, left, Suzi Fox, executive director of AMITW, and Skip Coyne, environmental director of AMITW, gather June 6 at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach to discuss sea turtle nesting season. Soares presented facts and nesting information during the Turtle Talks program. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison
Luciano Soares, research scientist with the FWC, answers questions about loggerheads and green sea turtles during the weekly Turtle Talk June 6 at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison

By Brook Morrison

Islander Reporter

Don’t be an intruder.

This could be a banner season for sea turtle nesting in Florida, but the need to educate people intruding on sea turtles remains paramount.

“I think what’s happening is people are running after them with their phones” to take photos or video, Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring said June 6 before the most recent Turtle Talk series at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach. “People need to stay 100 feet away and stay silent if they come onto a nesting turtle.”

Fox said turtle watch volunteers spotted a number of false crawls from the Manatee Public Beach southward to 26th Street in Holmes Beach. False crawls are when a sea turtle comes onto a nesting beach but aborts nesting.

“I consulted with FWC staff and we concur that this is only caused by people walking up to turtles on the beach at night,” Fox said.

Only females come ashore, and only to nest. It is strange territory to the sea turtles and distractions can easily send them retreating, back to the Gulf of Mexico.

Also speaking at the Turtle Talk June 6 was Luciano Soares, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He suggested AMITW identify hot spots where nesting false crawls occur and take action from there.

Early sea turtle nesting ‘spotty’ on Anna Maria Island

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A sea turtle nest sits May 27 on the beach near 46th Street in Holmes Beach, surrounded by Memorial Day beachgoers. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
One of two snowy plovers documented on Anna Maria Island sits with its chick May 29 on the shore in north Holmes Beach. The birds, designated as threatened in the state, are monitored locally by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring. The nest, spotted April 27, contained three eggs that hatched May 29. Even though laid several days apart, eggs in a plover nest hatch the same day, so the chicks can be protected and by their parents, according to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox. Islander Photo: Courtesy Brenda Twiss

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start for summer on Anna Maria Island.

This year, as with other holiday weekends on the island, revelers packed the beach May 27.

During the spring and summer months, visitors to island beaches must share the shoreline with nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.

Sharing the space involves cleaning up trash, filling in holes in the sand and removing beach gear, including chairs, canopies, games and inflatables at the end of the day, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox.

“People were pretty good this year with cleaning up their stuff,” Fox said May 29 of the holiday weekend. “There was trash at the usual spots, like the public beaches, but our bigger concern appears to be people on the beach at night.”

Fox said nesting was “spotty” in the first month of sea turtle nesting season, which started May 1 and continues through Oct. 31.

Female sea turtles only come 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.

As of June 2, there were 104 loggerhead nests and 143 false crawls on the island, compared with 105 nests and 126 false crawls on the same day in 2018.

Fox said tracks on the beach, which is how AMITW volunteers spot nests and mark them off for protection, indicate that some sea turtles are crawling ashore then angling north or south along the beach before returning to the Gulf without laying a clutch of eggs in the sand.

Fox said a turtle moving away from people on the beach could cause the diagonal tracks.

“We understand that people are excited to see the sea turtles,” Fox said. “But they need to keep back at least 50 feet and let the turtles do their job.”

In 2018, AMITW broke its record for loggerhead nests with 534 nests by the end of the season. Fox is hopeful this will be another record-breaker for island sea turtles.

“Things are moving a little slow right now, but that could all change as the weather warms up,” Fox said. “Even with a slow start, nesting could pick up any day now, and we could very well break another record.”


Resources for sea turtle nesting season

To report unattended property or large holes on the beach, call code enforcement:

  • Anna Maria, 941-708-6130, ext. 139 or 129.
  • Bradenton Beach, 941-778-1005, ext. 280.
  • Holmes Beach, 941-708-5800, ext. 247.

To read about turtle-friendly lighting, visit:

  • myfwc.com/seaturtle and click on “Sea Turtles and Lights.”

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles, call:

  • FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline, 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

To reach Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, contact executive director Suzi Fox:

  • 941-778-5638 or suzifox@gmail.com.

To learn more about sea turtles and conservation around the world, visit Sea Turtle Conservancy: conserveturtles.org.