ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- This year's sea turtle nesting season ends Friday.
According to the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, 260 sea turtle nests were laid on the island this year.
Though 29.5 percent and 109 nests lower than last year's 369 nests, AMITW Executive Director Suzi Fox said 260 is still way above the average number of nests found on the island over the past 15 or so years.
"We had a whole bunch of new sand, which I believe has probably contributed to a higher nesting number here," she said, in reference to the nearly $16 million beach renourishment project that wrapped up earlier this year. "The other thing is people are paying much more attention to the rules. They are falling in love with the sea turtle program as a whole."
This year's number of false crawls -- which happens when mother turtles abandon their attempt to nest in the sand -- was 283. Fox said false crawls aren't always negative.
"Seventy-five percent of the time we have found that it's simply an act of nature that they go back to the water. They might just be on the shore saying, 'You know what, I want to pick another place,' " she said. "They're women, they're pregnant, they're finicky."
In total, mother turtles arrived on Anna Maria Island 543 times, which Fox described as a "phenomenal number."
"Five hundred forty-three of anything is a lot," she said.
Last Friday night, the last nest on the island hatched, but there was an unfortunate mishap. According to Fox, 21 hatchlings got lost because someone in Holmes Beach left an outside light on.
"We didn't find them. I don't know where they are. ... they're gone," she said. "Nesting season goes through Oct. 31 for a very good reason. Sometimes we have nests that are due later than Oct. 31. The law says you must legally keep your lights off until then. Twenty-one hatchlings went the wrong way because someone decided to click their lights on. They decided that they knew more than the law."
Saturday morning, a couple from
New York did find a single live hatchling near the nest and notified AMITW volunteers.
Fox said the last nest should have been the island's "crowning glory." It would have added to this year's total of hatchlings: 18,257.
"See how one light can do it? Whether you see nests out there or not doesn't mean anything," she said, adding her heart goes out to all those who cooperated with the rules this year.
Glenn Wiseman, who helps organize AMITW's walking tours with his wife, Claudia Wiseman, during the sea turtle nesting season, noted the popularity of the walks has increased slightly.
"We had more (tour) days than we usually do because we had so many requests this year," he said, adding organizers often extended the tours from one day a week to three days. "We tried to keep it (the number of people on the tours) to 30 but then you get beach walkers that join the group."
Sometimes, the number of people on one tour would reach about 50, Wiseman said.
"It was a little hard to manage but it worked out," he said. "Every year it gets a little more because we have more visitors on the island and social media helps spread it like crazy."
According to Fox, the best thing about this year's nesting season was the hard work AMITW volunteers put in to track down nests.
"The walkers were totally challenged this year and came through 100 percent," she said.
Fox said she was proud.
"That's gotta be the best thing," she said. "They just had to go the extra mile -- and they were happy to do so."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.