Tag Archives: Wildlife

Sheriff’s deputies help with sea turtle safety on patrol in Anna Maria

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Manatee County Sheriff’s Deputies Todd Sellitto, left and Paul Boos, pose Aug. 3 during their nighttime beach patrol in Anna Maria. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen
About a dozen hatchlings emerge Aug. 2 from a nest in Anna Maria. The photo was captured with natural light under a full moon. Islander Photo: Courtesy Minellie Martinez

Some Manatee County Sheriff’s deputies experience sea turtle activity that most others never see.

As officers on the night shift, Deputies Paul Boos and Todd Sellitto patrol the beach in Anna Maria by ATV making sure people have filled in holes and removed gear, including canopies, tents, beach chairs and rafts, at the end of the day. The items can become impediments to nesting or hatchling sea turtles during season, which runs May-October.

Sellitto said he has been watching turtles nest and hatch during his shifts for several years.

“It’s so gratifying to see the nests being laid, then two months later, watching the hatchlings make it to the water,” he said.

Usually, nests are scattered along the beach.

This season, due to a beach renourishment project south of Anna Maria, most nests were relocated to holes dug in a “nursery” area in southern Anna Maria by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers.

The human-made nests match the shape of an egg cavity dug by a sea turtle and are covered with sand.

As of Aug. 6, the relocation area contained 344 nests, marked with stakes and tape for protection and data collection by AMITW.

“The stakes and bright tape are intriguing to people, so we let them know what it means and ask them to be respectful,” Sellitto said.

Now that hatchlings have started emerging from the nursery by the hundreds, MCSO deputies also are patrolling the relocation area, educating nighttime beachgoers who witness a hatch and cautioning people against the use of flashlights.

Artificial light can disorient sea turtles away from the water, leading to their exhaustion, as well as predation.

“Tonight, when we arrived, there were people here waiting to see a hatch,” Sellitto said. “They got to
witness this amazing miracle. But we warn people not to use flashlights and also to keep their distance.”

Boos and Sellitto said most reactions from people witnessing a hatch are positive.

“Once people see these baby turtles heading to the water, it’s impossible for them not to want to learn more,” Sellitto said. “I think people are blown away when they actually see nature taking its course.”

Sea turtle traverses pipe to nest, hatches abound

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Hundreds of sea turtle nests, dug by AMITW volunteers to hold the eggs from nests laid in the path of the beach renourishment project, line the dunes Aug. 1 along the shore north of Peppertree Lane in Anna Maria. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen
A sea turtle nest is marked with pink tape in the dunes July 29 near 75th Street in Holmes Beach. The turtle crawled across the sandy ramp over a pipeline to reach the dune and nest, then returned to the Gulf of Mexico along the same path. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen
Kathy Doddridge, AMITW volunteer, smiles July 8 as she transports sea turtle eggs to a new nest cavity on the beach in Anna Maria. The eggs were moved out of the way of the ongoing beach renourishment project. Islander Photo: AMITW

Thanks go to Mother Nature.

As instinct yields determination, especially when honed over millennia, the nesting sea turtles on Anna Maria Island find their path.

Based on evidence left in the sandy trail, some time after dusk July 27, a female loggerhead sea turtle crawled ashore, across a sandy ramp constructed to help people cross a pipe used to pump sand for beach renourishment, then lumbered up into the dune to lay her eggs.

After nesting, the sea turtle returned on her path to the Gulf of Mexico.

The turtle was the first known to travel across the freshly pumped sand and nest since July 8, when Manatee County started the renourishment project, starting at 78th Street in Holmes Beach. The work to spread the sand and the equipment will move southward on the beach to Longboat Pass.

“Our girls that nest here on Anna Maria Island are very clever,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said July 29.

According to Fox, sea turtles are less likely to nest in wet sand that is freshly pumped onto the beach. So, true to form, the turtle bypassed the new sand and went high into the dune to bury her eggs in dry sand. That also put her clutch farther from a rising tide that could flood the eggs.

Turtle watch has been relocating nests laid in the path of the project since season started in late April. The nests are dug up from the beaches slated for renourishment and moved to hand-dug nests in a “nursery” in Anna Maria, north of the renourishment area.

As of July 30, AMITW volunteers had relocated 325 nests.

According to AMITW’s contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency overseeing the renourishment project, nests laid after the project passed were to be left in place and marked with tape and stakes.

However, Fox was concerned the hatchlings — usually about 100 per nest — would be unable to maneuver the renourishment pipe, nearly 3 feet in diameter, running about 30 blocks down the beach near the shoreline.

So after consulting with a representative of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a decision was made to relocate any nests laid in sand landward of the pipe.

The nest laid in the dune July 27 must remain, as too much time passed to relocate it had passed.

Fox said in 45-90 days, when the nest nears hatch time, it will be covered with a restraining cage and watched by volunteers, who will assist the hatchlings to the Gulf.

Fox said nesting season is waning on the island and across the state so there should not be many more nests to relocate before nesting, hatching and renourishment wrap up at the end of October.

And hatches have been proceeding as planned.

As of Aug. 2, 58 nests had hatched and about 3,095  hatchlings had journeyed to the Gulf, according to AMITW.

“We are pretty tickled to see that nests are hatching well,” Fox said. “Fingers crossed for minimal flooding, so as many of these little guys as possible can make it out to the water.”

For more information about turtle watch, people can visit the AMITW website at islandturtlewatch.com or contact Fox at 941-778-5638 or suzilfox@gmail.com.

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

Sea turtles lay on the brakes, renourishment speeds up

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Tracks on a sand ramp leading over a renourishment pipe indicate a sea turtle crawled onto the beach but returned to the Gulf of Mexico without nesting. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
Linda ONeal, AMITW volunteer, helps relocate sea turtle nests July 8 on the beach in Anna Maria.

“It’s slow, slow, slow, in the turtle world.”

That’s the proclamation July 23 from Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director.

The shift from nesting to hatching has occurred.

Starting in late-April this year, mature female sea turtles began crawling ashore to lay eggs in sandy pits dug into the beach. Following 45-70 days of incubation, hatchlings emerge from the clutch — about 100 per nest — and crawl to the Gulf of Mexico to begin their cycle of life.

However, this year, Mother Nature’s plan was interrupted by beach renourishment and eggs in nests laid in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach were retrieved by AMITW volunteers and placed in hand-dug nests in Anna Maria.

Manatee County started a new beach renourishment project July 8 near 78th Street in Holmes Beach, where it continues moving south to Longboat Pass, piping fresh sand onto the beach and moving several blocks each day.

“The turtles might be slow, but renourishment is going faster than expected,” Fox said, adding that the project was a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.

The plan included leaving nests where they were laid on renourished sand.

“The biologists we work with say that they have not nested on the renourished sand because it is still too wet,” Fox said.

She said there have been multiple false crawls — when a turtle leaves the water and crawls ashore but returns without nesting — in the renourishment areas, including a turtle that crawled up a ramp in the sand over a pipe, then returned to the Gulf without nesting.

Fox said another turtle dropped its eggs along the shore before returning to the water.

“The turtles that come ashore and decide the sand is too wet likely just nest a little further away,” Fox said.

As of July 24, turtle watch had documented and relocated 320 nests to the beach north of the project.

Additionally, 102 nests were laid on Anna Maria beaches.

As of July 26, 29 nests had hatched, with about 1,808 hatchlings to the Gulf.

Fox said the hatch rate was a little less than usual since some nests in the relocation zone were washed over by rain and tidal surge generated in early June as Tropical Storm Cristobal moved through the Gulf of Mexico.

Overall, Fox is pleased with how the hatch portion of season has proceeded.

“Never say never,” she said. “Even with the challenges of renourishment, the sea turtles of Anna Maria Island are doing great.”

For more information about turtle watch, people can visit the AMITW website at islandturtlewatch.com, or contact Fox at 941-778-5638 or suzilfox@gmail.com.

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

On the scene in Cortez

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A dead loggerhead turtle was found in late July in Cortez. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers recovered the sea turtle and transferred it to Amber Lee Kinkaid, blue facemask, and Lindsey Reisz of Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, according to Roque and Kathy Pastorius, who provided the photographs. Islander Courtesy Photo
A dead loggerhead turtle was found in late July in Cortez. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers recovered the sea turtle and transferred it to Amber Lee Kinkaid, blue facemask, and Lindsey Reisz of Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, according to Roque and Kathy Pastorius, who provided the photographs. Islander Courtesy Photo

Manatee deaths on rise in 2020

More manatees died in the first half of 2020 than in the first half of any of the past five years, except 2018.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported 367 manatees died between Jan. 1 and July 10.

For the same period in 2019, 329 manatees died and the five-year average is 345.

In the first half of 2018, 459 manatees died, but the numbers spiked even higher in the second half of the year, with either red tide or blue-green algae plaguing parts of southwest Florida.

The FWC attributed about 10% or 38 of the manatee deaths to watercraft collisions.

Cold stress led to 38 deaths and 67 deaths were perinatal.

In Manatee County, the state reported 11 manatee deaths for the first half of 2020.

Nesting slows, renourishment continues, hatchlings emerge

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Urban glow, the brightening of the night sky over city centers and other inhabited areas, is seen July 15 from the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, looking toward the businesses near the intersection of Manatee Avenue West and East Bay Drive. Islander Photos: Courtesy AMITW
Frank Booth, AMITW volunteer, relocates a sea turtle nest July 8 from Holmes Beach to Anna Maria. The eggs were moved to avoid damage during the beach renourishment project.
A plaque commemorating the hatch date — July 4 — for an adopted sea turtle nest is one of hundreds to be distributed to donors after their nests hatch.

It’s the time of year when nesting slows to a trickle and hatchlings emerge in flotillas from nests in the sand.

“Everything is status quo,” Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird monitoring, said July 15 of sea turtle nesting season.

“We are getting two or three nests a night. So it is starting to slow down,” Fox said.

Nesting started in late April and hatches follow by about 60 days, and continue through the end of October.

This year, most of the nests were transferred from Holmes Beach to Anna Maria by AMITW volunteers, working around the clock to ensure sea turtles’ safety on Anna Maria Island.

Manatee County embarked on a beach renourishment project July 8 near 78th Street in Holmes Beach, which will continue piping fresh sand onto the beach, moving several blocks each day south to Longboat Pass.

Turtle watch volunteers have been working ahead of the project to relocate eggs from nests laid in the renourishment zone to human-made nests on the beachfront north of the project in Anna Maria so the eggs are not covered with new sand or destroyed.

Nests laid on the newly renourished beaches will not be relocated.

As of July 17, turtle watch had documented and relocated 298 nests to areas north of the project.

Additionally, 103 nests were laid across the beach in Anna Maria.

And since relocated nests are starting to hatch, Fox is concerned that lighting visible from the shoreline could distract hatchlings away from the Gulf of Mexico.

As of July 17, 18 nests had hatched.

Upon emerging from the sand, mostly at night, hatchling sea turtles move toward the brightest light source, which should be the reflection of light from the moon and stars on the water.

However, development on Anna Maria Island has led to sky glow, the brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas, and Fox is concerned the glow of light from businesses near the intersection of Manatee Avenue West and East Bay Drive could draw hatchlings from the beach, away from the Gulf.

“Sky glow is something we are going to have to work on,” she said, adding that the new Compass Hotel, a six-story building at 12340 Manatee Ave. W., on Perico Island, is too far to be a problem.

Fox also said she hopes people do not wait by nests and take pictures or video of hatches with cellphones. The lighting can disorient hatchlings, which must reserve energy for the crawl to the water.

“We know people are excited, but lights from phones will kill hatchlings,” she said. “If you happen to be lucky enough to see a hatch, enjoy the experience in the moment and keep phones dark.”

For more information, people can visit the AMITW website at islandturtlewatch.com, or contact Fox at 941-778-5638 or suzilfox@gmail.com.

Nesting activity slows, hatchlings anticipated

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Brightly marked rows of relocated sea turtle nests stretch seaward June 24 on the beach in Anna Maria. The nests were relocated to Anna Maria from Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach ahead of a renourishment project. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — It’s almost the time when sea turtle nesting wanes and hatchlings wax on Anna Maria Island beaches.

“Nesting is down a bit from 15 a day,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said June 24. “That gives us a chance to catch our breath.”

As Fox and her league of volunteers take a breath, Manatee County is gearing up a beach renourishment project on Anna Maria Island, working from 78th Street in Holmes Beach to Longboat Pass in Bradenton Beach.

As of June 25, turtle watch volunteers had spotted and relocated 209 nests from the shoreline in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to areas north of the Manatee County beach renourishment project zone, so eggs were not destroyed by equipment or covered by sand pumped in to restore the eroded beaches.

Fox said she has worked closely with the county biologist and project contractor to ensure nesting turtles and hatchlings will not be in harm’s way during the work.

The county planned to begin beach renourishment July 2, weather permitting, and will continue through Oct. 31 — coinciding with the end of sea turtle nesting season.

Since the season began May 1, nests laid on beaches slated for renourishment have been relocated to human-made nests on beaches in Anna Maria, outside the project area.

However, Fox said nests laid in newly renourished sections, after equipment has passed through, will not be relocated.

“It won’t be as many, since things are slowing down, but people could see some nests marked in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach,” Fox said.

For each nest in the relocation zone, volunteers collect the eggs, retain them until after sunrise and deposit them in a hole dug in the sand to mimic the shape of a sea turtle nest cavity, following Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations.

Nests laid outside the relocation zone in Anna Maria are not marked or reported, but turtle watch tracks the dates laid and location.

As of June 25, AMITW logged 67 nests laid in Anna Maria.

Fox said, any day now, hatchlings from the first nests of the season will start emerging from the nests and heading to the Gulf of Mexico.

Each nest contains about 100 eggs, which all will hatch at once, after about 45-70 days of incubation.

After that, males never leave the water and females only come ashore to nest.

Turtle watch volunteers excavate nests 72 hours after hatching to count hatched, unhatched and partially developed eggs and collect other data, which is shared with federal, state and county agencies.

Previously, AMITW invited the public to attend excavations. This year, with concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, volunteers will work without a gallery.

“We want to do what is safest for everyone,” Fox said. “We can protect the turtles while protecting ourselves.”

For more information about turtle watch, people can visit the AMITW website at islandturtlewatch.com or contact Fox at 941-778-5638 or suzilfox@gmail.com.

To find out more about beach renourishment, including anticipated scheduling, visit mymanatee.org.

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

Storm tides, rain swamp some sea turtle nests

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Hans Derr, AMITW volunteer, prepares May 21 to place eggs removed from a newly laid loggerhead nest in Holmes Beach in the path of an upcoming beach renourishment project into a hand-dug nest in Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Sea turtle nesting season is well underway on Anna Maria Island.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers spotted 75 new nests June 7-11, bringing the total to 183 as of June 11 — about 30 more nests than on the same date in 2019.

Turtle watch volunteers this year are patrolling the beach on ATVs in the morning in search of tracks leading from the Gulf of Mexico to sandy nests and other signs of sea turtle activity. Volunteers also monitor the nests until they hatch to collect data on hatchlings during the May-October season.

Nests laid on beaches in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach are being relocated to human-made nests out of the path of a projected Manatee County beach renourishment project — 78th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass — but without a start date.

Nests laid on the Gulf of Mexico in Anna Maria are recorded but left undisturbed, although data is being collected outside the project zone.

Also, this year, nests laid on the Tampa Bay shoreline in Anna Maria, which usually has minimal numbers, are not being documented.

Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said June 11 that nesting patterns have been different this season. She said areas that usually have many nests — such as Coquina Beach, a Manatee County-run park in Bradenton Beach — are seeing lower numbers, while the north end of the island has more nests than usual.

“The difference is significant,” Fox said, adding that nesting numbers on the south end of the island could be lower because the beach there has diminished and the beach on the north end of the island has expanded, both due to storms and tide patterns.

Fox said about 50 nests in the relocation zone were washed over by rain and tidal surge generated as Tropical Storm Cristobal moved through the Gulf of Mexico June 5-7.

She said the eggs were “inundated” and likely would not hatch.

Sea turtle eggs are permeable — they absorb water — and the hatchlings can drown in the clutch before they emerge.

Fox said, since the storm tides flooded the beach, turtle watch is relocating nests as landward on the beach as possible, to avoid similar problems in the future.

However, the island saw a surge in nesting after the storm passed.

“Even with the washed over nests, our numbers are really good,” Fox said. “We are powering through another successful season.”

For more information about turtle watch, people can visit the AMITW website at islandturtlewatch.com or contact Fox at 941-778-5638 or suzilfox@gmail.com.

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

Captain earns sea turtle champion title

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Capt. David White, a charter fishing guide, holds a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle June 10 after spotting it entangled in fishing line about a half-mile west of Passage Key. White contacted Mote Marine Laboratory’s stranding investigations team for permission to interact with the critically endangered sea turtle and followed guidelines provided to untangle and release the turtle. Islander Courtesy Photo
Capt. David White, poses with a juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtle before its release back into Tampa Bay. White said the turtle “swam off fine.” Christina Entrot of Philadelphia fished with White and captured the photo.

Rain or shine, sea turtle nesting is ticking up

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Skip Coyne, AMITW volunteer, investigates a sea turtle nest marked by a red flag June 1. A well-meaning note on the chair read, “Sea turtle eggs,” but the chair leg nearly punctured some of the eggs in the nest. Islander Photos: AMITW
Tracks and a swirl of sand indicate a loggerhead nest laid overnight June 1 in Bradenton Beach.

Sea turtles are taking to the beaches of Anna Maria Island.

As nesting season approaches its peak, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers are busy collecting data.

Recent heavy rains haven’t held them back.

“We aren’t missing anything,” Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said June 3. “We are well-trained to spot crawls after it’s rained.”

She said rain can help volunteers locate nests, because it washes away footprints and other markings made by people and animals near the tracks.

Rain or not, human interference is a concern for Fox.

She said there have been five adult sea turtle disorientations, likely caused by people walking alongside turtles looking for spots to deposit their eggs in the sand.

Sea turtles only come ashore to nest, so distractions can lead to failed nesting attempts.

“We know people want to watch them, but they have to stay back and let the turtles do their thing,” Fox said.

She also said people have been marking nests with chairs and other items.

Turtle watch volunteers June 1 found a nest under a chair. Someone had written a sign, “Sea turtle eggs” and attached it to the chair. Fox said one chair leg came close to puncturing an egg, which could have destroyed the clutch.

People may be trying to help, but the best they can do is stay back and not disrupt the environment surrounding a nest, she said.

At a nest, AMITW volunteers find clues, including tracks and other markings, that provide data for government agencies.

On Anna Maria Island, turtle watch is funded by the county to record data in order to comply with requirements of beach renourishment permitting.

Turtle watch volunteers patrol the beach by ATV each morning May-October to look for tracks and other signs of new nests. AMITW volunteers also monitor the nests until they hatch, to collect data on hatchlings.

Nests laid on beaches in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach are being relocated out of the way of an upcoming Manatee County beach renourishment project, from 78th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass. Nests laid in Anna Maria are noted, but left undisturbed, as data is not being recorded outside the project zone.

As of June 7, AMITW reported 108 loggerhead nests — up from 60 nests one week prior — on beaches within the renourishment area.

For more information about turtle watch, people can visit the AMITW website at islandturtlewatch.com or contact Fox at 941-778-5638 or suzilfox@gmail.com.

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