ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- While work crews are cleaning up after Tropical Storm Debby, workers with the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch are marking nests along the beaches.
"We have about 15 brand new nests," said Suzi Fox, Turtle Watch director. "It's kind of like we suspected. We believed they (the mothers) would try to rally back because they've been out for a few days."
Fox said Tuesday she expected a surge of new nests as the female turtles have been unable to swim ashore during the rough conditions.
Lights luminating the beach should be turned off or shielded so the turtles will leave the ocean to nest, she said.
Several nests were relocated earlier this week to dry areas along Coquina Beach, she said Tuesday.
An estimated 180 nests, much more than the average 50 for this time of year, were on the beaches before Tropical Storm Debby formed. Fox said workers have not had a chance to check and remark pre-existing nests that may have been buried by sand or washed away.
In some places, only the top six inches of the 30-inch markers are visible.
"Typically what can happen is the storms can wash out nests when you have high tide or storm surges and typical beach erosion," said Kevin Baxter, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.
After new nests are tended, Turtle Watch workers will use triangulation stakes in the dunes to find previously made nests, Fox said.
Mote Marine Laboratory researchers have found 244 nests of 1,367 marked along the coast from Longboat Key to Venice before the storm, according to a news release.
Approximately 82 percent of the nests in that area have been left unmarked as a result of Debby.
"Sea turtle experts hope that the large volume of nests laid so far this season will help offset the losses," the Mote news release stated. "Until Debby, nesting numbers were looking great, with more nests laid between April and June 2012 than during all of the 2011 nesting season."
Fox said with so many unmarked nests lining the coastline, beachgoers should pay attention to where they walk or set up tents or chairs.
"There are definitely nests," she said. "We may have the same amount we started with except they aren't marked. People are going to have to be much more careful and cautious of where they're stepping."
Uplifted stakes should be taken to the Anna Maria City Hall. Any displaced eggs should be bucketed without water and Turtle Watch should be notified.
Anyone finding unmarked nests should call Turtle Watch at 941-778-5638 or 248-982-5500.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.