Anna Maria Island gets schooled ahead of sea turtle nesting season

acastillo@bradenton.comApril 9, 2014 

HOLMES BEACH -- Residents and visitors of Anna Maria Island will soon have to tread carefully on the island's beaches. The sea turtles are coming.

The Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring (AMITW and SBM) held a spring training workshop Tuesday for people interested in volunteering during sea turtle nesting season, which begins in May.

Suzi Fox, executive director of AMITW, led the workshop at CrossPointe Fellowship, 8605 Gulf Drive.

"We have more new recruits this year than we've ever had," she said over the phone earlier this week. "We're pretty excited about that. New blood is excitement in a program."

The main responsibilities of volunteers are to locate the tracks of mother turtles who arrive to the beach the night before, mark those areas off and verify that there are eggs in those nests.

Fox covered a lot of ground through an often-humorous powerpoint presentation. Is this a nest, or a falsie? How can you tell if a mother turtle actually laid her eggs? How can you distinguish the tracks of a loggerhead turtle from that of a green turtle? These were just a few of many questions

addressed during the hour-long workshop.

The AMITW works under federal guidelines set by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a big responsibility stressed by Fox. She went through the procedure they have to follow when a nest is found in extreme detail.

"We are doing a huge job out there," Fox said, adding that volunteers' goal is to collect data so that beach projects like the recent beach renourishment plan can move on.

"If we had an oil spill or a hurricane and we needed to get equipment on the beach, we need to know where every nest is," Fox said. "It's also a look at how we're doing environmentally in Manatee County."

Karen Anderson, a self-proclaimed "Turtle Girl," is volunteering as a survey walker for her second year. The 55-year-old, who moved to Anna Maria from Virginia two years ago, said she wanted to help for a long time.

"As soon as I moved down here, I asked the first person I met on the island how to could get involved," the retired nurse said, adding that she's always loved the ocean and marine life.

After the workshop was over, 9-year-old Mara Dunn and her 'Mimi" (grandmother) Tracy Kimpton hung around for a bit.

The Anna Maria Elementary School student will be walking for her third year this upcoming season. She said she's seen false crawls and even witnessed baby turtles hatching.

"I hope that I at least get to see a mama turtle (this season)," Mara said about walking this year. "I've always wanted to see one."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/Island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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