Guests of Dans Florida Condos (www.dansfloridacondos.com) and Anna Maria Island are urged to educate themselves on many of the rules and regulations that protect the many Sea Turtles that share the island with them. This years “Turtle Watch” has come a few weeks early, due to warmer than normal climate and water currents in the Gulf of Mexico.
The first loggerhead nest of the 2018 sea turtle nesting season in Florida was spotted April 9 in Palm Beach County. According to Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, this is early even for the east coast, which sees earlier nesters due to the warm Gulfstream.
“This is very, very early and I’m a bit nervous,” Fox wrote in an April 9 email to AMITW volunteers. “We should be prepared to conduct survey walks early.”
Sea turtle nesting season officially begins May 1, a date that signals mature females soon will make their way to island beaches to deposit their eggs. A record-breaking number of nests — 488 — were counted on Anna Maria Island in 2017. During nesting season, which runs through Oct. 31, AMITW volunteers are assigned a designated 1-mile stretch of beach to walk once a week, just after sunrise, looking for signs of nesting activity the night before and, later in the season, for hatchlings to emerge.
When nests are discovered, they are staked for protection and monitored for data, which goes to Manatee County and the state to track population and behavior trends. The data also is required for beach renourishment research. During nesting season, turtle watch relies on code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to keep the beaches safe for sea turtles and people.
Holmes Beach code enforcement officer JT Thomas said he works hand-in-hand with the public to educate people about turtle-friendly practices. He said he invites people to join him at the end of his workday as he patrols the beach checking for code compliance.
Sea turtles — mostly loggerheads on the island — use their instincts to follow the natural light from the reflection of the moon and stars on the surface of the water back to the Gulf of Mexico after nesting.
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 close to the shoreline can distract sea turtles away from the water, increasing the likelihood of death by predation or exhaustion, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The island 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. Recently, Thomas has had a team of four citizen volunteers who each ride with him one night a week, checking streetlights and beachfront lights to determine which ones might be problematic for sea turtles. Florida Power and Light is using the information to tag streetlights it plans to turn off or shield for nesting season.
Thomas said he plans to tighten communication with FPL this nesting season to address lighting concerns. Following Hurricane Irma in September 2017, many beachfront property owners pruned trees and bushes that blocked light from the beach.
“Its important people realize they may have cleared landscaping that used to block light to the beach,” Thomas said. “They may need to switch out a bulb or change a fixture to be turtle-friendly.”
Thomas said while he and his crew are checking lights, they stop to chat with people on the beach who are curious about sea turtles.
“It’s all about us working together as a team with turtle watch and keeping the flow of information going to the public,” Thomas said. “Turtle watch shares the knowledge that helps us keep the beaches safe for turtles and people.”
Anna Maria code enforcement manager Dave Greenbaum said he also has a team of staff and volunteers checking for lighting compliance. He said the city ensures lighting visible from the beach is compliant before issuing a certificate of occupancy.
“Everything is pretty much squared away and ready to go for turtle season,” Greenbaum said.
Bradenton Beach code enforcement officer Gail Garneau is emailing property owners, management companies and other businesses, reminding them to turn off or shield lights visible from the beach from sunset to sunrise. Notices also include a reminder that beach furniture and related beach items must be pulled landward, behind the dune line. Beach furniture left on the beach after sunset may be confiscated and retrieval of such items includes a fee.
Last year, Bradenton Beach enacted a fee schedule that includes fines for property left overnight on the beach, and lighting violations. Holmes Beach also recently included sea turtle ordinance violations on its notice of violation form and includes a compliance check as part of the city’s new vacation rental inspections.
The first week in May, Garneau will perform lighting inspections with Fox to ensure there are no compliance issues with new development. Additionally, Garneau, Greenbaum and Thomas attended an FWC lighting workshop in Bellair Beach in March.
AMITW and the island municipalities also are distributing cards that contain a filter that when held up to a light source can help determine if a light is sea turtle-friendly. Fox and AMITW volunteers will be distributing the “turtle eye” cards, along with other informational materials, to island businesses, owners and residents the first week in May.
“We are working with code 100 percent in all three cities,” Fox said. “We are ready to hit the ground running when the turtle girls arrive.”
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 May 1-Oct.31.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-778-5638.
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