MANATEE — There was no mistaking the sadness in the voice of Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.
Fox, who already faces a daunting task in trying to save threatened sea turtle populations, knows that a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico adds a huge new challenge in the fight for survival.
Nesting populations along Manatee beaches have fallen from more than 300 a year in the late 1990s to about half that in recent years. In 2009, local volunteers counted 162 turtle nests along Manatee beaches.
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Manatee sea turtle volunteers expect to see their first nests of the year any day now.
In Sarasota County, Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Patrol has spotted the first two nests of the season.
A loggerhead sea turtle nest was spotted May 4 near the north end of Venice. The second nest was reported May 5 near the north end of Siesta Key.
Hayley Rutger, Mote spokeswoman, said it is unknown whether the first turtles were affected by the oil spill, but there is no oil near Manatee-Sarasota shores at this time.
Fox plans to meet with volunteers soon to talk about the extra measures they may be forced to take. Some volunteers might be unable to contribute to the turtle watch due to health concerns if oil or residue comes ashore.
“We are used to crisis management. But we are prepared for natural problems, not problems that man has made,” Fox said. “I just want to cry.”