Tag Archives: Wildlife

FWC, Mote rescue ailing juvenile manatee found in Holmes Beach basin

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FWC and Mote corral an ailing juvenile manatee in the basin at the Waterline Marina, Holmes Beach, load it on an FWC manatee rescue boat and whisk it to Tampa Zoo for evaluation and treatment. Islander Photos: Gillian Kendall
A FWC manatee rescue team and representatives from Mote load and prepare a juvenile manatee May 17 on the FWC boat for transport to Tampa.

By Gillian Kendall, Special to The Islander

A juvenile manatee in distress was rescued May 17 from the basin on Marina Drive in Holmes Beach.

The ailing marine mammal had been spotted by Steve Ryan of Cincinnati, a guest at the Waterline Marina, Resort and Beach Club, 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

Ryan went to the hotel reception desk for help, where supervisor Giselle Brock phoned the hotline for Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

Brock passed her phone to another employee, an engineer, who went outdoors to keep track of the animal’s location. “Danny has the kindest heart,” Brock said. “I knew he would help.”

Among the docks in the marina, a small crowd gathered, watching for air bubbles. The manatee was alive, but barely moving, it’s head surfacing only occasionally to breathe.

Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Andy Garrett, manatee rescue coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, had been getting calls and texts. “We were hearing about a small, lethargic animal with a weird lesion, which didn’t seem to be acting right. We got photos and we agreed it was emaciated.”

Garrett gathered a team for the rescue.

“We had seven FWC people there and three from Mote got there, too. When we got there, we split up. Two guys, a volunteer named Tim and one of our biologists, Sean Tennant, went in the water,” Garrett said.

The two men stood chest-deep in the murky brown water as the team put a large net with floats in the water. “We looped some net out away from the boat slip and had the two swimmers kind of corral it into the net,” said Garrett. “They just gently encouraged it to go where we wanted it to go.”

Within a few minutes, the net surrounding the manatee was hauled in gently but rapidly, allowing the manatee to be lifted aboard the FWC boat, which then quickly departed.

Onboard, a worker poured buckets of water over the manatee to protect its skin and encourage it to breathe, Garrett said.

They young manatee was on its way to get help.

Despite the team’s best efforts, Garrett said he could not predict the eventual outcome. “I don’t know what’s going on with that manatee; it’s in bad shape. It’s about a six-and-a-half-foot male, probably a few years old at most.

“It had some other lesions. In one area it looked like the top layer of skin was missing; it has a weird, almost cut look to it. I didn’t get a whole lot of time to look at it. We got going as soon as we got the animal back in our boat.”

After they landed the boat, they took the manatee to Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park in Tampa.

Garrett said it looked as if a layer of skin was missing. “If it was a disease you’d expect the edges to be necrotic, but this was so clean-cut. We’re hopeful Zoo Tampa can figure out what’s going on.”

At Zoo Tampa, Garrett said, the staff will draw blood and look for infections. “If it’s underweight, which this one seems to be, they may try to hydrate it with fluids and give it some antibiotics.”

The overall goal, he said, is to rehab the manatee to go back out where it was found.

Garrett said his team handles about 100 stranded manatees a year. The calls for help are irregular and come from all over the state.

“We can go weeks without anything happening, or sometimes it’s more frequent.”

Once an animal is identified as requiring assistance, Garrett said, “we want to make sure we have a safe plan — it can be dangerous.” Manatees can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

“Human safety comes first, and then the animal safety is very important as well. This rescue was a lot safer because the animal was small and thin and not likely to give us trouble,” he said.

“We rely on the public to let us know about animals in distress,” Garrett said. “We get a lot of calls at the FWC hotline, 888-404-3922, 24 hours a day.”

Cortez stone crab season — one of the worst

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On the Cortez waterfront at 119th Street May 16, idle boats hold traps, ropes, buoys and other crabbing gear — a day after the annual stone crab season came to a close in Florida. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Idle stone crab traps are stored May 16 alongside the 119th Street docks following the end of the 2018-19 season.

The 2018-19 stone crab season was one of the worst in Florida history and “a lot of it is due to the red tide.”

That was Fish and Wildlife Research Institute researcher Ryan Gandy’s assessment May 16.

The research arm for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the FWRI, among other researchers and fishers, placed blame on the toxicity of red tide and the stranglehold of low oxygen in the water that resulted from high concentrations of Karenia brevis.

The stone crab fishery closed for the season May 16. FWC limits the season to five months annually to sustain the fishery. It will reopen Oct. 15.

“Most fisherman stopped by the first of the year,” Gandy said about the stone crab harvest.

“There were no crabs to be caught from the mouth of Tampa Bay to Marco Island,” he added.

John Banyas, who owns the Swordfish Grill & Tiki Bar, N.E. Taylor Boatworks and the Cortez Bait & Seafood market in Cortez, is licensed for about 2,500 crab traps, but didn’t put them all out after testing and suspecting a bad year.

No crabs found along local shore

Paul Moore, who, with Banyas, prepares, checks and harvests the stone crab claws from the traps set in the Gulf of Mexico, agreed with Gandy’s assessment in a May 15 interview with The Islander.

“There was nothing off our local shore,” said Moore, who started crabbing 39 years ago with his father, fishing between St. Pete and Boca Grande for the now-defunct family business, Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant on Longboat Key.

Different this season, he said, was the lack of stone crabs in local waters.

Moore spoke to others in Sarasota, Venice and Fort Myers, he said, who faced similar issues.

“Anywhere red tide went, the crabs were driven away,” he added.

For Moore and Banyas, supplying the Cortez restaurant and market meant additional time and cost, setting traps and harvesting claws mostly north of John’s

Pass and Tarpon Springs and traveling long distances to recover traps disbursed by storms.

“Earlier in the season, we did catch good crab up there,” he said, but that meant a lot of travel, more fuel and expense.

K. brevis events

At Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Phil Gravinese studies the plight of stone crab with experiments in tanks, as well as from a dock in Sarasota Bay at Mote.

A year ago, Gravinese said the fishery is cyclical, declining overall since 2000. At the time, he cited a variety of possible causes — environmental changes, hurricanes, overfishing since 1996 and an influx of octopi, the stone crab’s archenemy.

In April, Gravinese and other researchers at Mote published “Karenia brevis causes high mortality and impaired swimming behavior of Florida stone crab larvae” in the journal of Harmful Algae.

The study referenced FWC data showing a 63% drop in landings — from 322,807 pounds in 2015 to 118,079 pounds in 2018 — and concludes high concentrations of red tide caused stone crab larvae to die, interfered with the reproductive cycle and reduces the fishery for two-three years.

The study also concluded that larvae can’t swim away from highly toxic blooms with K. brevis concentrations of more than 1 million cells per liter.

Mote found larvae would die within 48 hours in high concentrations of K. brevis — and noted more than 90 million cells per liter were found at the height of red tide in Sarasota.

“On this coastline, the research suggests the decline in stone crab resiliency because red tide is recurring over the years,” Gravinese said in a May 16 interview with The Islander.

Coastal degradation and nutrient accumulation degrade water quality, “potentially exacerbating K. brevis events,” according to the Mote study.

Landings and test lines

In his position at FWRI, Gandy monitors stone crab test lines throughout the state and records landings and market values for the FWC.
Gravinese and Gandy work together, share data and conclusions.

Based on early landings reports, Gandy projected there would be less than 2 million pounds of stone crab claws — only claws 2 3/4 or larger can be legally harvested — 700,000 pounds lower than the average year. And while the market values must be reported, Gandy said he doesn’t project them.

“I don’t think the statewide decline can be attributed to red tide,” Gravinese said about Gandy’s projections, adding the reason is likely due to fishery management.

Gandy equivocates. “We cannot say for certain the red tide impacted the statewide catch of stone crab this season. Some areas had good catch and other moderate catch,” he said.

Over the past 20 years, the state has experienced lower landing years independent of red tide.

Asked whether FWC is considering changes in stone crab regulations — such as shorter seasons or stricter restrictions — Gandy said no. While the FWC changes its rules from time to time, he didn’t see any coming.

Looking to the future

The Mote and FWC/FWRI studies also point to a few bright spots.

Larvae exposed to low concentrations of red tide were unaffected, according to Gravinese.

“Animals don’t seem to show negative impacts in low concentrations of red tide,” he said.

Mitigation efforts — such as canal ozonation and clay seeding being researched by Mote — also provide hope for stone crab larvae at medium concentrations of K. brevis, Gravinese added.

The FWC started test lines in 1988 with traps in the Tampa Bay area, including a line off the north end of Anna Maria Island, and added lines in southwest Florida in 2005 and the Big Bend region in January 2006.

A Pine Island/Boca Grande test line was installed in August 2018 after the red tide intensified.

The FWC worked with Pine Island fishers to set lines of 20 traps offshore to gauge the impact of red tide on the stone crab population, with traps in varying depths in mid-August. The data collection ended in October.

“Red tide clearly impacted the stone crab fishery from Manatee through Lee counties this season,” including a stone crab die off near Pine and Sanibel islands, Gandy said of the results.

“We had the hurricane in 2017 and red tide this year,” he added, and called it a “tough couple years,” from which the fishery can “hopefully” bounce back.

Brown algae interrupts environmental respite

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Capt. Scott Moore shot this photo of a blanket of brown algae floating in Anna Maria Sound May 17 just north of the Anna Maria Island Bridge and Manatee Avenue.
Lyngbya wollei algae floats alongside the fishing docks May 16 at 119th Street West in Cortez. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

“The scientists can talk, but they are not out here on the water 200 days a year. It’s the worst brown drift algae I’ve ever seen here.”

So says Capt. Scott Moore, who has been fishing Sarasota Bay and the waters of Anna Maria Island for almost 40 years. He knows what should and should not be here.

According to Moore, Lyngbya wollei, the scientific name for the brown algae, is rare in such large concentrations.

“We get this brown drift every spring — some call it gumbo — but not like this. It’s common in small doses,” Moore told The Islander May 17. “But this has been horrific.”

Moore has his theory on the algae: nutrients.

He pointed to all the dead sea life that sank and decomposed in the Gulf of Mexico and the bays during the red tide of 2018.

“It all just ferments at the bottom, makes all those nutrients as it decomposes and then feeds algae, such as the brown drift, and we get this huge bloom that rises,” Moore said. “Eventually, it all sinks again, but not before the smell, and it can take the oxygen levels in canals down to zero.”

Larry Brand, a professor of marine biology and ecology at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, is an expert on red tide, but he hasn’t really weighed in with much concern for the recent brown drift that first became apparent near Fort Myers.

“My colleagues identified it. It first started appearing down around Lemon Bay and Cape Coral. Excess nutrients are what causes HABs — harmful algal blooms — and this is another one,” Brand told The Islander May 15.

“There are hundreds of algae constantly competing for nutrients. Sometimes the toxic algae, such as red tide, win out, and we have a big bloom like the one that just passed. Other times, the non-toxic algae dominate, and we don’t even notice them,” Brand said.

Brand said he is not aware of any massive spill or other event that might have dumped a large quantity of nutrients into Southwest Florida waters.

“People don’t want to come in contact with this algae,” he said. “Eventually, it produces gas bubbles and sinks back down. It’s the surface winds that move it around.”

Fran Derr and her neighbors in the Key Royale community of Holmes Beach were happy the algae there had begun to dissipate.

“We have a group of neighbors that walk,” Derr said, and they called attention to the HAB. “The smell was horrendous for a few days, but it seems to have cleared out,” she reported May 16.

Kelly Richmond, communications lead for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the brown algae is a brackish water type and that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection began testing samples May 9 in Holmes Beach. The DEP had earlier identified the bloom as Lyngbya wollei, a cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, that can cause skin irritations, damage beaches and impair habitats.

The good news on the drifting brown gumbo?

Moore says it will disappear.

“It always comes in the spring. By mid-summer, it’s gone historically,” he said.

More about red tide

Locals still recovering from the effects of the red tide bloom the stretched into January 2019, are hopeful there won’t be a repeat.

The effects of red tide first appeared on Anna Maria Island in August 2018 and eventually stretched as far north as the Florida Panhandle before it subsided.

FWC samples turned up very low concentrations of red tide — less than 10,000 parts per liter — May 13 during routine testing at the Coquina Boat Ramp in Bradenton Beach.

At such low concentrations, red tide is not apparent in the water — no dead fish and no human irritation.

The low-level algae report was the only positive sampling along the Southwest Florida coastline at press time May 20.

Brand said there is no way to predict red tide. He maintains development of another red tide bloom is tied to ocean currents.

“If the loop current in the Gulf of Mexico is in the southern position, historical data shows no red tide occurring. On the other hand, if its farther north, it’s a better chance,” Brand said.

For now, Moore continues to take anglers to fish in the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island and hopes officials will take measures to help stop growth of red tide and brown algae.

“It’s been proven aerators work to help stop algae. The bubbles mess with the algae growth. Aeration systems installed at the mouths of our canals could help keep algae out of our waterways and improve the overall health of our waters,” Moore said.

DEP weighs in on brown algae

In an email from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Dee Ann Miller included information about brown algae, which was recently observed in Manatee County waters:

“The cyanobacteria sampled in Manatee County are found worldwide and are a natural part of our freshwater, brackish and marine environments in Florida.”

The email said algae typically increases in the spring and summer months, when water temperatures and daylight hours increase.

They are photosynthetic organisms and, like plants, convert sunlight into energy, using nutrients from their environment.

Higher levels of nutrients can lead to higher levels of growth. As it floats and begins to decay, the alga can emit a foul, rotten egg odor from the production of gas and organic breakdown.

The DEP advises people to avoid contact with algae and stay out of the water if a bloom is visible.

However, not all alga is harmful to humans or marine life.

People are encouraged to report blooms to the DEP hotline at 1-855-305-3903 or online at floridadep.gov/dear/algal-bloom.

Brown ‘gumbo’ algae invades island

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Another bout of brown algae returns to Key Royale Drive May 6 at 65th Street in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Christine Wright
Brown algae blankets the Key Royale canal at 65th Street during the last week of March and first week of May. Islander Photo: Christine Wright
A closeup May 9 shows the fiberous sheath of oblong-shaped algae at 66th Street. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

“People call it gumbo,” Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth said May 9.

At the end of April and beginning of May, pad-like algal blooms pushed into waters around Anna Maria Island, hung around for about a week and receded.

But then the unwanted visitor came back strong and stinky.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection began testing May 9 in Holmes Beach to determine the toxicity of the large brownish oblong algae mats.

The DEP collected samples from two Holmes Beach locations — bayside at 26th Street and the canal north of Westbay Point & Moorings, 6500 Flotilla Drive.

Also May 9, DEP spokeswoman Weesam Khoury would not speculate on why the bloom was occurring and did not know when testing results would be made available.

The samples will be analyzed in Tallahassee for toxicity and algal type.

Similar testing from Lake Okeechobee, along the Calaloosahatchee River to Fort Myers, has been performed in the past month. And, in places, whitish mold has grown on the brown pads.

As to why sites were chosen, she said there were several reports from Charlotte County to Manatee County that prompted testing for six types of “microcystins,” including toxic cyanobacteria, known as the blue-green algae, and three other toxins.

“Residents and visitors are always advised to avoid coming into contact with algae and to stay out of the water where a visible bloom is present,” Khoury said in a May 9 email, adding the DEP will monitor and retest persistent blooms.

In Sarasota County, the DEP identified Lyngbya wollei, a large diameter cyanobacteria with the same thick sheath and dense mats, according to Stephannie Kettle, of Mote Marine Laboratory.

Lyngbya nuisance blooms are known to degrade water quality, damage beaches and shorelines, cause skin irritation, reduce biodiversity and impair habitat and food webs. “Mote doesn’t work with this type of algae,” Kettle said.

Mote, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, research and monitor another algae, Karenia brevis, also known as red tide, which pushed into southwest Florida in high concentrations between August 2017 and January 2019, causing massive fish kills and deaths of manatees, dolphins and other marine animals and birds in the hundreds.

The current algae is not red tide.

Also testing the water in May was the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, a branch of the FWC.

Spokeswoman Kelly Richmond said volunteers sampled locations at the Rod & Reel Pier May 6 and School Key, known as Key Royale, May 1.

Results from the FWRI testing showed no harmful algal blooms, she said. Volunteers will continue sampling the water and may add other test locations.

Although the stench improved and no HABs were identified on Anna Maria Island the second week of May, some people living near the algal blooms expressed their disgust.

“Last week, after it sat in the sun, it was really strong. Like sewage. Even inside our house,” Holmes Beach resident Christine Wright said May 9.

Titsworth agreed, “People are hating it.”

She has asked Barney Salmon, the city director of development services, to research the outbreak.

“I firmly believe it comes from too much nutrients,” the mayor said, adding “It happens a lot.”

Reporting blooms

The DEP encourages the reporting of alga blooms to its hotline at 855-305-3903 or online.

Sea turtle season crawls forward on Anna Maria Island

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Marty Hollar, manager of the Anna Maria Island Dream Inn, 2502 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, sits with her granddaughter, Lorelei Myers, 4, as she displays a rack card with tips for protecting coastal wildlife. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Nests line Coquina Beach in July 2018. By the end of the season, Oct. 31, 2018, 534 loggerhead nests were documented on Anna Maria Island. Islander File Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Ready? Set? You bet.

“We pretty much have a set routine now to prepare for the sea turtles,” Marty Hollar, manager of the Anna Maria Island Dream Inn in Bradenton Beach, said May 8 about preparations for sea turtle nesting season.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring documented the first nest of the season May 1, near the south end of the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

The season runs May-October.

As of May 12, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring had identified 9 nests and 15 false crawls on the island.

Last year, AMITW saw a record-breaking nesting season, with 534 loggerhead sea turtle nests.

By the start of the season, AMITW and officials in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach expect beachfront businesses and residents to comply with federal, state and municipal sea turtle regulations, which include proper lighting and removing beach gear before sunset, such as tents, canopies, chairs and rafts.

Hollar said AMITW executive director Suzi Fox provided her with handouts, door hangers and stickers detailing the rules and regulations to share with guests.

Hollar said she and her daughters, who work at the hotel, change lightbulbs in Gulf-facing fixtures to amber-colored, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission compliant bulbs and ensure staff removes beach furniture before sunset.

During nesting and after hatching, sea turtles are drawn by their instincts to the Gulf of Mexico by the reflection of the moon and stars on the water’s surface.

Disorientations can occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract the sea turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or death by dehydration.

Additionally, sea turtles only leave the water to nest, so 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 and it washes into the water.

“Guests are asking, ‘When will we get to see the sea turtles?’ Hollar said. “We let them know there are no guarantees.”

Fox said if someone is lucky enough to see a nesting sea turtle, they should observe from a distance of at least 50 feet.

She said a person approached her May 2 on the beach to show her a photo he took the night before of a loggerhead that had emerged from the Gulf.

When AMITW checked the area where the photo was taken, there were no eggs. Fox said, judging from the picture, the person was too close to the turtle and possibly frightened it back into the Gulf.

“I understand people are excited, but the mama turtles are here to do a job,” Fox said. “They need their space to nest.”

Fox said people are doing well with turtle-friendly beachfront lighting, but some spots need to come into compliance. She said she is working with code enforcement in the island cities to get lighting up to speed.

Holmes Beach code enforcement supervisor JT Thomas said officers conduct nighttime lighting inspections, then, the next day, communicate with tenants and owners about problem areas.

Additionally, Thomas and Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer recently worked with representatives from Florida Power and Light to shield some streetlights that could have caused disorientations.

Thomas said keeping the beaches clean, flat and properly lit for sea turtles and people requires a unified front. “We work together as a team with turtle watch, business owners, residents and visitors,” Thomas said. “It’s all about education and communication with the public to keep the sea turtles safe.”

Info and aid

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

Visit myfwc.com/seaturtle and click on “Sea Turtles and Lights” for more on keeping beaches safe for sea turtles.

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles contact the FWC at 888-404-3922.

Mote spots ‘extremely rare’ leatherback sea turtle nests

It’s been nearly 20 years since they were last documented on Gulf of Mexico beaches.

As of May 8, two “extremely rare” leatherback sea turtle nests were spotted on Siesta Key and Venice beaches, according to Mote Marine Laboratory of Sarasota.

“Leatherback sea turtles rarely nest on Gulf of Mexico beaches. The only leatherback nest documented by Mote Marine Laboratory in our area was in 2001,” stated a release issued May 8 in advance of a news conference that day.

Leatherback sea turtles, which predominantly nest on Florida’s East Coast, are the largest of the seven sea turtle species, growing to more than 6.5 feet in length and weighing up to 2,000 pounds. Leatherbacks venture into deeper waters and migrate further than other sea turtle species, according to Mote’s release.

In its 38th year, Mote’s sea turtle conservation and research program monitors 35 miles of beaches, from Longboat Key to Venice, for nesting activity.

For more information on leatherback sea turtles, visit myfwc.com.

Cheers, discontent accompany first loggerhead nest on AMI

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The first loggerhead nest of the 2019 sea turtle nesting season on Anna Maria Island was spotted and marked May 1 at the south end of the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach. The large hole visible on the right was dug and left overnight by beachgoers. More, page 3. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Holmes Beach residents and frequent beachwalkers Todd and Vicki McIntyre look over the tracks and the first loggerhead nest of the 2019 sea turtle nesting season near the picnic area at the south end of the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach. Vicki McIntyre is The Islander office assistant.

Hooray! Tracks on the beach May 1 pointed to a nest.

Alas. There was a huge hole left on the beach — a sure threat to nesting sea turtles.

Sea turtles have arrived on Anna Maria Island, seeking clean, flat, dark beaches to lay their nests.

The first loggerhead nest of 2019 was spotted May 1 at the south end of the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

But the nest was found next to a hole in the sand measuring about 5 feet in diameter — large enough to possibly trap or deter the nesting female on its way to lay its eggs or on its return to the Gulf of Mexico.

Some beachgoers assumed the hole was the sea turtle nest, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox.

Sea turtle nesting season officially kicked off May 1, which signals AMITW volunteers hit the beach just after sunrise looking for signs of nesting activity and, later in the season, signs that hatchlings emerged from nests.

Fox said holes in the sand are dangerous to sea turtles and people. She said turtle watch volunteers have been injured on morning walks by stumbling into holes on the beach.

In March 2018, following the spring visitor influx, a hole found on the beach was so large that the beach-cleaning tractor became stuck and had to be towed.

“Holes, especially on Manatee Public Beach, are one of the biggest problems we face on the beach during nesting season,” Fox said. “We understand that people are in vacation-mode and having fun, but they need to remember to take care of our natural resources and fill in holes at the end of the day.”

Holmes Beach code enforcement officer Robin Evangalisto said May 1 that her office patrols the beach during the season, filling in holes and removing beach gear, such as tents, canopies, chairs and rafts left on the beach after sunset.

“People usually just don’t know what they are doing could be harmful,” she said. “Usually they are happy to comply, once we explain.”

The code enforcement officers in Holmes Beach, as well as Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach, impound equipment left on the beach, which the owner can retrieve upon payment of a fee, $75 in Holmes Beach and $100 in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach.

In 2018, Anna Maria amended its nuisance ordinance to state that, “Digging a hole in the beach sand so as to create a hazard to other beach users or wildlife is deemed a nuisance and in violation of this code of ordinances.”

Violation of the ordinance in Anna Maria carries a fine of $100.

Some beachfront cities, including Panama City Beach, have ordinances banning metal tools more than 14 inches long on the beach.

Violators in Panama City Beach receive a verbal warning and then a $25 fine.

None of the three island municipalities have regulations prohibiting tools on the beach, but Fox said she plans to approach the Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach commissions to see if they would consider adopting such an ordinance.

“Large industrial shovels should be treated like alcohol or any other problematic elements that don’t belong on the beach,” Fox said. “If it takes an ordinance to fix this, then that might be the next step.”

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.

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

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

First sea turtles of 2019 attempt to nest

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Sea turtle tracks in the sand, spotted by AMITW volunteers — lead from the water and back again early morning April 27 at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. The activity was deemed a “false crawl” — no nest was found. Islander Photo: AMITW

The loggerheads are off to an early start on Anna Maria Island.

Sea turtle nesting season officially began May 1, but the first activity of the season — three false crawls — was spotted on island beaches April 27.

A false crawl occurs when a female turtle leaves the Gulf of Mexico to nest, but returns to the water without laying her eggs. The season often begins with false crawls as the female sea turtles are “testing the temperature of the sand” before depositing their eggs, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox.

“It’s gotten warmer recently and everything with sea turtles is about temperature,” Fox said April 27 regarding the early activity.

The first nest of a record-breaking 534 nests last season was spotted May 13, 2018, at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

Also, as of April 27, Mote Marine Laboratory of Sarasota had documented seven nests south of AMI on the beaches of Casey Key, Longboat Key and Venice.

Every year, officially May 1-Oct. 31, female sea turtles — mostly loggerheads on the Gulf Coast — return to beaches near where they hatched to lay their eggs.

Each of the 73 turtle watch volunteers is assigned to walk a turn on a 1-mile stretch of beach just after sunrise, looking for the tell-tale tracks that indicate a sea turtle came ashore to nest.

Later in the season, they will scan the shore for signs of hatches.

Once spotted, nests are marked with tape and stakes and observed for data and protection.

Fox said several people she spoke with on the beach April 27 near where the false crawls were spotted recognized the tracks as being made by sea turtles.

“I was impressed that the public knew what the tracks were,” Fox said. “It’s good to know that people are out there keeping an eye on our wildlife.”

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

Visit myfwc.com/seaturtle and click on “Sea Turtles and Lights” or “Wildlife Friendly Lighting” for information on keeping beaches safe for sea turtles.

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

Anna Maria Island prepares for nesting season

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Holmes Beach code enforcement officer Nate Brown, left, and Police Chief Bill Tokajer flank a table April 18 displaying handouts, door-hangers, stickers and a sea turtle-friendly lighting display at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring provided the information. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

The official start for sea turtle nesting season on Anna Maria Island is May 1.

But the turtles can be expected any day.

The first nest in 2018 was marked May 13 on Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

With mature females making their way to island beaches to deposit their eggs, precautions — for people and turtles — must be taken.

This means lighting visible from the shoreline must be sea turtle-friendly.

A record-breaking number of loggerhead sea turtle nests — 534 — were counted on Anna Maria Island in 2018.

Adult female sea turtles only leave the water to nest. They use their instincts to follow the natural light from the reflection of the moon and stars on the surface of the water to return to the Gulf of Mexico after depositing their clutch of eggs.

The hatchlings follow the same instincts when they emerge from the clutch to the sandy surface — they head to the sparkle of light on the water.

Bright lights visible from the shoreline can distract sea turtles away from the water, increasing the likelihood of death by predation or exhaustion, when they lose sight of the water, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Additionally, beach equipment, including rafts, canopies, volleyball nets and tents, left on the beach overnight, as well as holes dug in the sand, can be impediments to nesting turtles.

During nesting season, which runs through Oct. 31, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring must depend on code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to keep the beaches safe for sea turtles and people.

The state and municipalities have ordinances to deal with sea turtle lighting violations. Additionally, loggerheads are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act.

Island code enforcement officers and turtle watchers will begin regular lighting inspections the first week of May.

However, the cities also have been preparing in the off-season.

In 2018, Anna Maria amended its nuisance ordinance to make large holes on the beach a violation, according to code enforcement officer and turtle watch volunteer Debbie Haynes.

“Holes on the beach are unsafe for people and sea turtles,” Haynes said. “I’m glad something is being done.”

In Bradenton Beach, code enforcement officer Gail Garneau is emailing property owners, rental management companies and other businesses, reminding them to install turtle-friendly light bulbs.

In 2017, the city enacted a fee schedule that includes fines for property left overnight on the beach and lighting violations.

In Holmes Beach, last year, the commission included sea turtle ordinance violations on its notices of violation form and also includes a compliance check as part of the city’s new vacation rental inspections.

Additionally, JT Thomas, Holmes Beach code enforcement supervisor, said his officers — including Robin Evangelisto, recently hired to help with sea turtle season — are checking lighting at new construction for compliance.

Thomas said he and Police Chief Bill Tokajer met April 9 with representatives from Florida Power and Light to identify streetlights needing shielding for nesting season.

Also, some beachfront property owners have pruned back trees and bushes that previously blocked light visible from the shoreline — including lights that are visible through the vegetation from other sources.

“We are being proactive and letting people know that if they trimmed back their shrubs, lights that weren’t visible may be visible now,” Thomas said. “So we ask them to quickly come into compliance and install turtle-friendly bulbs.”

Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said she has been contacting owners at locations that consistently had lighting problems to provide them with bulbs.

“No one should have to turn out a light,” Fox said. “That’s not safe. We want people to have bulbs they can leave on year-round.”

She said she hopes to receive grant funding through the Sea Turtle Conservancy to purchase more bulbs.

“People have been really receptive,” Fox said. “When more funding comes through, we can do even more.”

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

Visit myfwc.com/seaturtle and click on “Sea Turtles and Lights” or “Wildlife Friendly Lighting” for more information on keeping beaches safe for sea turtles.

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

 

Do’s and don’ts for sea turtle nesting season

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 sand castles 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.

Dead sea turtle honored with poem

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A dead loggerhead sea turtle lays on the shore in Holmes Beach March 25. Christine Arnold, of Georgia, took the photograph and wrote to The Islander April 18, “At first we thought it was alive, as did many others who came running to observe.” Unfortunately, Arnold said, it was dead. Many beachgoers gathered to grieve for the sea turtle. “I, like others, took her photo to remember her,” Arnold said. Arnold also wrote a poem to memorialize the turtle: “How long has the sea carried you back to this place. Now she brings you to the end. We grieve for you wise one. We stand in honor of you, and we cry over your loss and ours.”

Turtle Watch limits volunteer opportunities, expands responsibilities

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Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, leads a meeting April 2 in Holmes Beach.
About 60 Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers congregate April 2 at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: Courtesy AMITW

Turtle watch is opting for quality over quantity.

About 60 volunteers gathered April 2 at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach for “turtle watch spring training,” a meeting led by Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, to prepare volunteers for the upcoming nesting season.

Some years, the meeting included new volunteers eager to learn about sea turtles and help conserve the habitat for the species that nest on the island.

This year, Fox limited the training pool to 73 experienced volunteers.

During sea turtle nesting and hatching season, which runs May 1-Oct. 31, AMITW volunteers walk a designated 1-mile stretch of beach just after sunrise, looking for signs of nesting activity and, later in the season, tracks indicating hatchlings have emerged from nests.

Fox said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission asked her to limit her staff this year. She said the organization would be functional with 25 volunteers, according to the FWC.

“We are over-staffed according to the FWC,” Fox said April 2, adding that Englewood Beach documents about 3,000 nests each season with 48 volunteers collecting data, compared with 534 nests on Anna Maria Island in 2018, with nearly 100 volunteer walkers.

On Anna Maria Island, when nests are identified, they are staked, marked and monitored for data, which goes to Manatee County, as is required for the beach renourishment program, as well as the state, for tracking population and behavior trends.

Volunteers find tracks and then determine if they lead to a nest or indicate a false crawl — a failed nesting attempt.

Fox said that because people are so enthusiastic about sea turtles on the island, she allowed the volunteer pool to be larger than needed. Now, with an increasing number of nests on the island each year, the focus is on accurate data collection, which, she said, requires boots-on-the-ground experience.

“We need the volunteers we have to get more experience under their belts. People are not learning what they should be,” Fox said. “The more time spent on the beach collecting data, the more confident they will be when they determine if tracks lead to a nest or false crawl.”

She said she asked volunteers to walk two mornings a week instead of one.

Fox said she wants the volunteers to “take more ownership” of their sections and will be giving them some responsibilities that used to be reserved for coordinators — the volunteers in each section who confirm nests spotted by walkers.

“I’d like to try making some changes in turtle watch,” Fox said. “Instead of being the social walking program, we’re all going to work a little bit harder at the actual data collection.”

For more information about AMITW, contact Fox at suzilfox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.