Anna Maria Island Sea Turtle Watch sets record sea turtle count for May

ANNA MARIA -- More than a dozen children's faces were illuminated by a projector late Tuesday afternoon at the Anna Maria Island Community Center. They sat in chairs, some restless, as images of sea turtles and shorebirds -- and tips on how to help protect them -- were shown on a screen.

Held by volunteers with the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, it was the last "Turtle Tuesday" program organized by the group dedicated to educating children on the importance of protecting sea turtles and shorebirds.

The session was part of the education and conservation efforts by AMITW, which announced Sunday a record 51 sea turtles nests were laid so far in May on Anna Maria Island. According to Executive Director Suzi Fox, on May 24, there were just 11 nests at this time in 2014.

"In May, if I had 10 nests -- normally in all 33 years of us being here -- I'd be tickled pink," she said Tuesday evening. "But to have 51 ... that's just incredible."

Fox said the community can see all the hard work they've put into protecting sea turtles is finally paying off.

"Our main goal is to help people or encourage people to fall in love with this sea turtle and shorebird monitoring program," she said, "and we are so there."

Holmes Beach resident Claudia Wiseman, 60, who helps organize AMITW walking tours with her husband, Glenn Wiseman, 62, spoke about ways the children can help sea turtles, including turning lights off at night on the beach so as not to disorient them and filling in sand holes at the beach.

"How many of you guys dig holes in the beach? And I hope you all fill them in when you're done, right?" Claudia asked. "If you don't, you need to start."

Wiseman told them turtles can fall in the holes and pointed at an image of a mother sea turtle in a large hole.

"That hole was so big, she fell in there," she said, adding the turtle ended up burying herself and died.

Wiseman asked them to help pick up any garbage on the beach, too.

"I usually pick up trash up from the water," said 6-year-old Lily Stringer.

Wiseman thanked her and said a lot of trash in the water looks like favorite foods and turtles will eat them.

After the session, children were asked to paint blank buckets for AMITW volunteers to fill with trash out on the beach. Lively chatter filled the room as they worked to color the bucket.

Lily Stringer, who painted a rainbow on a bucket with three other girls, said she loves sea turtles because they're cute.

"I don't want them to die," she said.

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