Tag Archives: Wildlife

3 sea turtles stranded on Anna Maria Island

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Representatives of Mote Marine Laboratory hitch a ride Sept. 1 on a Manatee County code enforcement ATV to rescue a stranded sea turtle on the beach near 54th Street in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
A loggerhead sea turtle found stranded Sept. 1 in Holmes Beach is undergoing rehabilitation at Mote. Islander Photo: Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory
A dead loggerhead sea turtle lays on the shore Aug. 31 near Bean Point in Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Courtesy Kyle Hagen

Three stranded adult sea turtles washed ashore on Anna Maria Island in one week’s time.

The first two strandings were found dead in the last week of August.

However, the third stranded turtle was spotted alive in the Gulf of Mexico near 45th Street in Holmes Beach. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Sept. 1 called out representatives of Mote Marine Laboratory’s stranding investigation program to rescue the adult loggerhead, which was reported as lethargic and bobbing in the surf.

The mature female loggerhead was missing it’s front left flipper and had damage to its right front flipper.

A beachgoer spotted the turtle, could tell it was in distress and swam out to help push it to shore near 54th Street, according to Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, who was on the beach during the rescue.

“She wanted to go back out to sea and just couldn’t do it,” Fox said, adding the flipper damage might have been caused by a shark bite.

Fox said a Manatee County code enforcement officer was patrolling the beach by ATV and helped transport the 221-pound turtle to Mote’s vehicle, where it was taken to Mote’s rehab hospital on City Island in Sarasota.

“She was very alert, but had a lot of barnacles on her back,” Fox said. “That’s a sure sign something was off, because normally turtles dive under rocks to scratch them off.”

The turtle was nicknamed Violet, after Sherlock Holmes’ mother, since it was found on Holmes Beach, according to Stephannie Kettle, Mote’s public relations manager.

“While she has eaten some, we are always very guarded when it comes to every new case,” Kettle said. “Our end goal is always recovery and eventual release, but at this early stage, it is very hard to predict what will happen.”

People can check Violet’s progress at http://mote.org/hospital, as the organization posts updates about its rehab patients.

One of the dead turtles was found on the beach near Bean Point in Anna Maria and the other was floating in Sarasota Bay behind the county marine rescue facility in Bradenton Beach.

Fox said both turtles appeared to have been dead for some time.

She also said none of the strandings appeared related to the beach renourishment project underway since July 8. The work involves piping sand from offshore onto the beach and is ongoing. The dredge work began near 78th Street North in Holmes Beach and is working south to about Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach.

“There doesn’t seem to be a commonality between the three strandings,” she said. “Each one is different.”

Fox said guidelines from FWC stipulate she must investigate strandings to determine if the project was a factor.

FWC has noted the three strandings and is investigating a potential cause, including speaking with turtle watch organizations in the surrounding area to see if they have encountered a similar trend, she said.

“Three dead in a week’s stretch is significant,” Fox said. “What it means, I do not know.”

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

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

Sea turtle hatching peaks on Anna Maria Island

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A sea turtle “nursery” near White Avenue at the boundary between Holmes Beach and Anna Maria — once filled with tapes and stakes that marked hundreds of nests — has a few remaining marked nests as of Aug. 26. Islander Photo: Chris-Ann Allen

It’s peak season for scampering sea turtle hatchlings on Anna Maria Island.

And a previous lighting problem, disorienting hatchlings away from the Gulf of Mexico, was fixed.

As of Aug. 28, 249 nests had hatched in a “nursery” area on the beach near White Avenue and Peppertree Lane, near the Anna Maria/Holmes Beach boundary.

The spot was chosen based on the depth of the beach and fewer lighting concerns, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox.

Artificial light visible from the water’s edge can draw sea turtles away from the Gulf of Mexico, increasing the chances of death by predation, dehydration or exhaustion before reaching the water.

All nests in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach laid since season started at the end of April have been relocated to the nursery due to the intrusion to the sea turtle habitat from the $17 million beach renourishment project, which commenced near 77th Street in Holmes Beach July 8 and will continue south to Longboat Pass through the end of October.

Sea turtle season runs May-October, with some green sea turtles — less common than loggerheads on the island — nesting later in season.

In August, Fox was concerned a light at the top of a privately owned pole in Holmes Beach, caused up to 6,000 hatchlings to disorient.

The property owner was not local and the city had to make contact before action could be taken.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said Aug. 26 Florida Power and Light turned off the light, with permission from the city and the owner.

Tokajer said several other potentially problematic lights for sea turtles also were addressed.

“Some of those lights were not even in our city, but we still addressed it with FPL,” Tokajer said.

Fox said there are about 100 nests left to hatch in the nursery.

“We don’t foresee any more problems in the hatchery area now that one light has been turned off,” she said. “Hats off to Holmes Beach for getting it taken care of.”

Horseshoe happenings

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists are asking the public to report horseshoe crab sightings on Florida beaches using the FWC Reporter application, a smartphone app available from digital shops.

The most common time to see horseshoe crabs along the shore is in March and April, which is peak mating season.

However, sightings occur year-round, as does mating.

Reporting horseshoe crab sightings provides FWC marine biologists important information about habitat use, population distribution and environmental conditions for spawning.

Although horseshoe crabs have existed for more than 450 million years, scientists are still learning about Florida populations.

So public sighting information helps researchers target spawning beaches for the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch Program, an initiative to collect scientifically accurate data throughout the state.

Horseshoe crabs are most active during the first few days of a new or full moon. The remainder of the 2020 calendar shows full moons this week, Sept. 2, and Oct. 1, Oct. 31, Nov. 30 and Dec. 29.

— Lisa Neff

Sea turtle hatches escalate, lighting cause for concern

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A light shining near about 65 relocated sea turtle nests in a “nursery” area near White Avenue at the boundary between Holmes Beach and Anna Maria could be causing hatchling disorientations. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

They’ve been moved, given time to incubate and now they are emerging like mad.

The sea turtles hatching on Anna Maria Island during the 2020 nesting season have weathered unique circumstances on their path to the Gulf of Mexico.

All nests in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach laid since season began at the end of April have been relocated north to Anna Maria due to a $17 million beach renourishment project, which started July 8 at 77th Street in Holmes Beach and will continue pumping sand to the shore south to Longboat Pass.

The project is slated to end Oct. 31, paralleling hatching season.

The nests were moved to an area determined most viable based on the condition of the sand, width of the beach and lack of lighting concerns, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox.

Lights visible from the shoreline can draw sea turtles away from the water, increasing the chances of death by predation, dehydration or exhaustion.

It appeared a private light atop a pole at a Holmes Beach residence shined toward the “nursery” area where relocated nests are hatching and could be causing disorientations.

Fox said Aug. 20 that the property owner doesn’t live there and Holmes Beach code compliance has attempted to contact the owner to turn off the light, which would require the use of a bucket truck due to the pole’s height.

Previously concealed foliage might have led the fixture to be unnoticed.

“It’s lighting the roof of the house and no one is there,” Fox said.

She added that usually she asks people to replace bulbs with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved bulbs but the light serves no purpose, so it could be shut off.

Fox said there were 65 nests that hatched in the affected area and hatchlings from 60 nests appeared to become disoriented and crawl away from the Gulf and toward the light.

“About 6,000 turtles came out of those nests,” she said. “Of those, we aren’t quite sure how many made it to the water.”

Fox said beachfront residents must make sure lights visible from the shoreline are compliant with sea turtle regulations.

“We just need everybody to do the right thing and make sure they are set with lights on the north end,” she said. “We’ve still got about 200 nests left to hatch and would like to wrap up a successful season.”

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

Turtle watch volunteers ‘roll with tide,’ new experiences

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Turtle Watch volunteers Bill Booher, Carla Boehme and linda oNeal dig nests Aug. 12 for sea turtle eggs being relocated from a beach renourishment zone. Islander Courtesy Photo
AMITW volunteers Brigit Kremer, left, and skip Coyne and executive director suzi fox watch June 30 as a rescued sea turtle returns to the water. Islander Photo: Courtesy Hans Duerr

They knew this year would be different.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers have faced
some unusual challenges in 2020.

A $17 million beach renourishment project was slated to possibly begin in April, a month before the official start of the sea turtle nesting season on Anna Maria Island.

The project, which started on the shore at 77th Street in Holmes Beach and will continue south to Longboat Pass, didn’t commence until early July. However, AMITW volunteers had to relocate all nests to Anna Maria, north of the project area, so they were not destroyed or covered with sand piped from offshore to replenish the beach.

“We all knew there were going to be some changes because of beach renourishment,” Kathy Doddridge, a veteran AMITW volunteer, said Aug. 5. “But, when COVID-19 came, we also had to think about how to keep everyone safe.”

Modifications included beach patrols by a handful of people on ATVs, spotting tracks leading to nests on the beach. The teams removed the eggs for relocation to nests dug by volunteers at the north end, who awaited the nest spotters headed their way with buckets of eggs.

Previously, nearly 100 turtle watch volunteers took turns conducting daily beach walks May-October on nine 1-mile sections of beach to look for the tractor like tracks indicating a newly laid sea turtle nest or, later in the season, tracks made by hatchlings headed to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Taking it from 90 volunteers to less than 20 was hard,” Doddridge said. “But it has been the best thing for us this season because we feel secure in our small group and can work quickly.”

As of Aug. 12, AMITW had relocated 348 nests.

Due to the renourishment project, which runs 24/7, turtle watch also has been running a night patrol with the project crew on the beach. Volunteers would “clear the area” by ensuring no nesting turtles had emerged onto a stretch of shore about to be renourished or traversed by the equipment.

Skip Coyne, leading the night patrol, ran 10-hour night shifts every night for two weeks in July during peak nesting.

Coyne signaled to the crew by turning his ATV sideways when he spotted a turtle, which prompted a halt in the construction and lights out, while workers waited for the turtle to nest and return to the Gulf.

Coyne then staked the nest, so the crew of turtle watch volunteers could spot it and collect and transfer the clutch of about 100 eggs at dawn.

Eventually, the 10-hour shift was divided into two shifts, with the second time slot ending near sunrise.

“We’ve had to be flexible and figure out how to innovate as we go,” Coyne said. “It’s worked out incredibly well.”

As one of Coyne’s tag-teams on the night shift, which work six mornings a week, AMITW volunteers Hans Duerr and Birgit Kremer tested their skills and had some new experiences.

They relocated about 120 nests, including, on July 3, the only green sea turtle nest on the island.

Additionally, Duerr and Kremer helped rescue a turtle they discovered one morning trapped at a building after it nested in Holmes Beach.

“We were able to rescue her and get her headed back to the ocean,” he said. “It was wonderful.”

Kremer said many nests were located high in the dunes where they were hard to spot.

“You have to open your mind and think like a turtle,” she said. “They’ve been especially tricky this year.”

While nests marked with stakes and tape provide some protection for incubating hatchlings, making them visible, the goal is to retrieve data.

Nesting nearly has ended and the relocated nests are hatching nightly.

Turtle watch goes into action 72 hours after a nest hatches, excavating the nest, accounting for hatched eggs, partially formed eggs, those that didn’t hatch and dead hatchlings. The data is shared with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as well as other local state and federal agencies.

Turtle watch estimated about 6,657 hatchlings made it to the Gulf of Mexico as of Aug. 12.

Turtle watch volunteer Bill Booher, who previously patrolled a section on the north end of the island, hadn’t planned to work for turtle watch this season.

However, as nesting picked up, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox asked if he could step in to help as needed.

Booher has been working with AMITW volunteers Linda ONeal and Carla Boehme in the “nursery” to dig nests similar to those created by a turtle and fill them with eggs.

Now that nesting has slowed, he’s helping with excavations.

Booher said about 6-10 nests have been hatching daily since Aug. 1.

And he has enjoyed lending a hand to the rest of the crew.

“One thing about change — it’s constant,” he said. “And sometimes it leads to something that can really be better. This season is proof that turtle watch can roll with the tide.”

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

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.