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AMI's Eco Day raises awareness of turtles' plight

BRADENTON BEACH — Devin Lam, a first-grader at Anna Maria Island Elementary School, is worried about the dangers monofilament fishing line presents to sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, fish and birds.

So Devin, who is doing a class project for his school on the subject, came to the first ever Bridge Street Beach-to-Bay Eco Day on Sunday to survey participants and test their awareness level about the issue.

“Don’t leave your old line behind,” Devin told the crowd at one of about nine Earth Day seminars delivered by environmentalists. From 2000 to 2006, 298 sea turtles were entangled in fishing line in Florida, he told the crowd.

Suzi Fox, head of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, praised Devin for his understanding of the devastating impact of fishing line on sea life.

Eco Day, part of Anna Maria Island’s three-day Real Florida Festival, drew a large morning crowd but a steady afternoon drizzle deflated attendance later in the day.

Florida Park Ranger Sarah Schoenfelder drew a lot of attention at her Eco Day booth with replicas of the tools that tribesmen used in 1539 when the Hernando de Soto expedition landed in Tampa Bay.

The expedition was looking for gold but instead found fields of golden corn, she said,

The DeSoto National Memorial will present a re-enactment of de Soto’s landing beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, Schoenfelder said.

Fox, whose talk on sea turtle nesting habits drew a big crowd, said she worried that loss of beach habitat is reducing the number of nesting turtles.

Last year there were 167 nests on Anna Maria Island, Fox said. But in the early 1990s, there were often 300 to 400 nests a year, she said.

“I am scared right now,” Fox added. “I don’t like these numbers.”

Two upcoming beach nourishment projects on Anna Maria Island should help encourage more nesting, Fox said.

Fox is the mother hen for 78 volunteers who are assigned to watch over the nests.

Maybe it’s the odds that attracts people to sea turtles, she said. In a nest of 100 eggs, 80 eggs will hatch, Fox said. Of those 80, perhaps 50 hatchlings will make it to the sea, where fish await to dine on them.

Only one of the 80 will make it to adulthood, Fox said.

“They hatch with just enough food and just enough energy inside them to make it to the sea,” Fox said. “The greatest moment for me is when they get close to the water. They go, go, go and just dive in and swim with all they’ve got.”

For more information on the sea turtle watch project, e-mail Fox at suzifox@ tampabay.rr.com or visit www.islandturtles.com. For information on the DeSoto re-enactment, call (941) 792-0458 or visit www.nps.gov/deso.

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