As summer swoops around, so does sea turtle nesting season. This year, the Sea Turtle Conservancy will throw its 10th annual Tour de Turtles event, which kicks off on July 30th.
By using specialized satellite telemetry, sea turtles are tagged, released into the wild and tracked during their migration period… from nesting beach to foraging ground; this usually lasts for approximately 3 months.
Since 2008, Tour de Turtles and its various sponsors have created a festive turtle marathon event around this concept. Turtles from all across the Gulf of Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Islands are entered to compete in a race to swim the furthest distance.
By involving the public in a fun yet educational, and ultimately beneficial turtle migration journey, the organization raises awareness of just how important sea turtle conservation is.
Anna Maria Island taking part in Tour de Turtles 2017
This year, Anna Maria Island is taking part for the second time, after participating in the 2015 event with a loggerhead named Amie. Sponsored by Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club in Holmes Beach, the local island Turtle Watch team and Shorebird Monitoring are working with Sea Turtle Conservancy to tag and release a female turtle named Eliza Ann.
With help from Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers, Sea Turtle Conservancy plan to pinpoint a nesting turtle along the beach, and safely fit it with a Sea Turtle Conservancy satellite tracker. Eliza Ann will then be released to the Gulf of Mexico at dawn the following day, in preparation for Tour de Turtles.
The Tour de Turtles Kick Off Event will be held on Saturday, July 29th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Barrier Island Center, 8385 S Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach, FL, about a 3.5-hour drive from Anna Maria Island.
This event will usher in the Tour de Turtles with a celebration featuring live music, refreshments, and a silent auction to benefit habitat protection and sea turtle conservation. Cost is $20 in advance and $35 at the door.
A Florida Live Turtle Release will also be held on Sunday, July 30th from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at the Barrier Island Center, 8385 S Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach, FL.
A surge in Anna Maria Island nesting turtles
Anna Maria Island’s inclusion in Tour de Turtles this year is made all the more fascinating with the dramatic rise in sea turtle nests recently found on the island. Reports have shown that almost double the amount of nests have been discovered as the same time last year.
With 128 currently been reported on local beaches, 300 more need to be found by the end of October in order to break 2016’s record-breaking 435 reported nests. What’s more, local experts strongly believe that at the rate these nests keep appearing, 2017 will be a year to top all others.
This greatly reassuring news is the result of a variety of factors. Turtles are more likely to nest in dark conditions. Not only have Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers made a special effort to either install turtle-friendly lighting or keep beaches completely dark at night, but they’ve also noted a sea turtle behavioral pattern that could explain the surge.
Often, sea turtles will return to the beach where they once hatched themselves, to hatch their own offspring. Since local conservation projects and protection methods really kicked off in the 1990s, it’s highly probable that 30 years later, those babies are now returning to the area they were born in to hatch their own.
Why are local volunteers so valuable to turtle conservation?
Despite their intelligence, sea turtles still require a little human help, which is why measures have been taken to further educate the public. Storms are the main threat to unhatched eggs, as heavy rainfall and higher tide levels endanger the lives of hatchlings that line the shore.
This is why after any stint of particularly bad weather, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers will inspect the coastline the following morning to scope out any turtle eggs that could potentially be at risk.
If a nest is found to be in danger, or in this case, filled with life-threatening amounts of water – volunteers are able to carefully salvage the eggs and transfer them to a dune-made nest in higher ground.
With many turtle nests hosting up to 100 unhatched eggs, that’s an exceptional amount of turtle lives that are potentially rescued!