It’s still dark outside when volunteers gather each morning to patrol for turtle nests. They walk the beaches and look for signs of turtle nesting and mark any nests that they encounter. This season, the work of these volunteers is as important as ever, because nesting numbers are down nearly 20% from last year. As of June 19, Longboat Key has had 82 nests, compared to 102 for the same period in 2009.
“We had a slow start this year for nesting probably because of cold weather,” said Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine Laboratory public relations specialist. “One of the cues for nesting is the warming up in temperatures.”
According to Rutger, researchers don’t know if the slow start to the season is reflective of changes in the turtle population.
Longboat Key Turtle Watch patrols the Manatee County portion of the island with a total of 18 permitted volunteers and 17 trainees. According to longtime Turtle Watch member Freda Perrotta, people who are interested in volunteering can walk with permitted volunteers to learn more about what they do.
Mote patrols the Sarasota County side of the Key. Although it’s too late to start volunteering as a Mote turtle watcher this year, next year, individuals who are interested can attend an annual training session that takes place in April.
And if you want to learn more about turtle watching, you can attend one of the free walks that takes place at 6:45 a.m. Saturdays in June and July beginning at the pool area at the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort, 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive. A Mote-trained volunteer will guide participants on a 1.5-mile walk and discuss sea turtles and the ways in which volunteers protect them. Walkers might find evidence of nests or false crawls, during which female turtles come to shore but return to the water without nesting. Guides will discuss how scientists and volunteers document and interpret such findings.
Turtle-nesting season lasts from May 1 through Oct. 31.
For information about Mote’s turtle walks, go to mote.org. For information about Longboat Key Turtle Watch, go to lbkturtlewatch.com.
Longboat Key Turtle Watch 2010 T-shirts are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce, 5570 Gulf of Mexico Drive, or from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at the UPS Store at the Centre Shops, 5370 Gulf of Mexico Drive. Cost is $15. Go to lbkturtlewatch.com.
TIPS FOR TURTLE NESTING SEASON
• If you encounter a nesting turtle, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
• Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
• Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water.
• Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
• Place trash in its proper place.
• Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise or shine lights at turtles.
• Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach.
• Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged.
• Use fireworks on the beach.