ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Beachgoers may have noticed an influx of new building in the past few weeks, totaling 116 new structures as of Wednesday, thanks to some unconventional local developers.
According to statistics from the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, Manatee beaches are now home to 116 new sea turtle nests this season alone, an unprecedented amount for the area throughout its recorded history. Usually by now in the season, there are about 50 nests.
Last summer, there were a total of 145 nests, and nesting is expected to continue through at least mid-July.
"You know, we really haven't heard anything," said Will Scott, a 35-year-old Manatee resident and avid beachgoer. "You just come out to the beach one day, there they are."
Suzi Fox, turtle watch director and longtime wild
life conservationist, believes the spike in nesting turtles may simply have resulted from human conservation efforts.
"We believe we may be seeing the return of all the juvenile turtles who benefitted from the adoption of TEDs (Turtle Excluding Devices) in the nets of fishermen around 20 years ago," Fox said.
The other theory proposed by Fox is that their "head start" programs are starting to see some returns. These programs, which ran from 1987 through 1990, involved gathering baby turtles as they hatched and relocating them to conservation facilities where they were kept and raised for the first year of their lives before being returned to the sea.
Considering it takes a loggerhead turtle about 30 years to reach maturity, it's not too far-fetched to believe that this may very well be a timely manifestation of the benefits of human involvement in sea turtle conservation.
Fox went on to explain that the predominant species of sea turtle nesting on Anna Maria was the loggerhead turtle, which is currently listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Other native species include both green and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, all of which are prone to nesting along Anna Maria Island beaches.
Fox urged local residents to educate themselves on how they can help protect the turtle populations.
Most importantly, Fox said beachgoers need to make sure to remove all their chairs, tents and similar daytime fixtures from the beach at night.
Turtles coming on shore to nest will often turn around and return to the sea without nesting if they run into obstructions such as these.
Aside from keeping beaches clear, Fox said beach residents should make sure they are not confusing young turtle hatchlings by having bright lights on at night that are visible from nesting sites, or by using "turtle-friendly" lighting, such as LED bulbs.
For more information on local sea turtles and how you can get involved, visit www.islandturtlewatch.com.
If you should happen to run across an unmarked turtle nest, call the turtle watch at 941-778-6324.