ANNA MARIA ISLAND — Sea turtles nesting on Anna Maria Island are benefiting from BP’s attempt to make amends for the Gulf oil spill.
A Holmes Beach commissioner wants local merchants who suffered because of the spill to get their piece of the pie, too.
Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, is directing local administration of a $1.5 million statewide grant to help island residents and business owners reduce sea turtle disorientation by installing turtle-friendly lighting.
The program — it provides for new lights, window tinting and the planting of bushes in front of offending lights — is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife. Fox said BP paid into the fund for every turtle killed or affected by the spill.
The statewide grant covers all equipment and installation.
“Here’s the chance to get the right stuff and get it for free,” Fox said.
But those funds pale in comparison to what Holmes Beach Commissioner John Monetti says is due local restaurant and lodging business owners. Monetti has scheduled two local meetings with a consortium of attorneys out of Pensacola to investigate whether local businesses could receive a portion of BP’s $20 billion claims fund.
Although local businesses weren’t directly affected by the spill, the disaster had an effect on tourism, Monetti said.
“The fact is 2009 was the worst year on record,” he said. “We were expecting a recovery in 2010. The recovery didn’t happen, and we think it was because of the oil spill. ... The European market is gone. They think all of Florida is awash in oil.”
The attorneys will attend a Holmes Beach Commission meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday and will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota. Monetti said the meetings are free and open to the public.
Monetti is the general manager of the Columbia Restaurant on St. Armands Circle. He also represents the Sarasota region in the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, a lobbying powerhouse.
It was at an FRLA meeting that Monetti heard attorneys from Levin Papantino Thomas Mitchell Echsner Rafferty and Proctor, a firm with experience in civil litigation, discuss representing the association. After the meeting, Monetti cornered the attorneys and convinced them to visit Manatee and Sarasota counties to help local merchants learn how to file claim forms.
Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce President Mary Ann Brockman said she will attend a meeting out of curiosity. She said the island definitely suffered from the perception that the oil spill affected the entire Gulf Coast.
“People assumed Florida was the Panhandle, period,” Brockman said. “The Europeans still think that way. ... I just don’t know how you put a price tag on that.”
Fox said 19 loggerhead sea turtle nests, which contain as many as 100 eggs, have been disoriented this turtle season, which runs from May 1 to Oct. 31.
Unnatural light from homes, streets and parking lots interfere with the turtles internal navigation system. As a result, sea turtles can mistakenly wander onto roadways, instead of using natural light as a guide to the ocean.
The grant ends Dec. 1, and Fox encouraged residents and business owners to call her at 778-5638 for more information.