May 1st marks the official beginning of turtle season on the island. This is when the sea turtles swim to land and lay their eggs. On Anna Maria Island, we normally get Loggerheads, but there are 4 other types of sea turtles that also have been known to visit the island. They crawl up the beach (normally during the night), dig nests (normally by the seagrass) and lay their eggs. Each morning, volunteers walk the beach before sunrise in order to look for signs of turtle nests. They look for turtle tracks which look like this:
If they find a nest, they will document it and stake posts around it with orange flags to mark the location. You can see these on the beaches throughout the summer.
The volunteers will keep track of the nests, paying close attention as each nest gets close to hatching. Sometimes, nests are too deep and it is hard for the last few turtles to climb out of the hole. Volunteers will assist them if possible. Loggerhead babies use the reflection of the moon on the water to find their way to the water and begin swimming.
They will swim for many miles until they reach food. It is important that they do not use excessive energy climbing out of the nest and or walking the wrong way up the beach because they normally have just enough energy to make it to where they will find food. You might notice that if you walk the beach after the sun goes down it is extremely dark on the beach – almost as if no one lives on the island!
This is because homes must keep patio lights from shining out toward the beach (and should keep them off altogether) and should also ensure inside lights are not shining directly on the beach. Please remember that if you are on the beach at night, flashlights or flash photography are also not allowed. This is important to ensure that the baby turtles do not confuse house lights or flashlights with the reflection of the moon on the water and start traveling inland.
General rules of the beach also help keep the sea turtles safe and include staying on walkways and crossovers when walking out to the beach, leaving turtle nests and turtles undisturbed, keeping off dunes and dune grass, and taking all trash, toys, chairs and other beach gear with you when you leave the beach.
While many turtle eggs hatch each year, only a very small percentage live to adulthood. The sea turtle population has decreased significantly and many people are working hard to stop this problem. Please go to http://islandturtlewatch.com/sea-turtles/ for more information.
This site includes educational material, volunteer information and a list of events and activities. Learning about sea turtles has been fun for our family – especially when you can see that they have been active on the beach! It is likely that if you are here between May and October, you will spot turtle tracks, nests, or maybe even be lucky enough to see a turtle!
Check out some other great articles with local information about Anna Maria Island: