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  • Nancy McAleer

Come Experience the Wonders of Fall on Anna Maria Island, Florida


It's one of the best kept secrets, the fall season on Anna Maria Island is an amazing time to experience some of the wonders this treasured Florida island has to offer. The island becomes quiet with most tourists that have departed and kids back in school. The beaches become even more idyllic and tranquil which provides nature the perfect setting for what comes next, SEA TURTLE HATCHLING season.

Sea Turtle season is a big deal on Anna Maria Island. The seven mile long stretch of beach is the nursery for five different types of sea turtles and thousands of hatchlings each year. It runs from May 1st to Oct 31st each year. Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the ocean often far from shore, when they finally come back it's a special event. Incubation takes anywhere from 55 to 75 days before the hatchlings break ground and make a run for the water.

Sea turtles and visitors share this delicate eco-system. Nature needs a little help sometimes, so the islanders have ensured that these nests are well protected. The entire shoreline of Anna Maria Island is monitored at dawn each day during the season by the trained staff of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring. These walkers identify and report the crawls from female turtles and flag their nests at dawn long before most folks rise from sleep. Walkers also report the locations of turtle hatchling emergence every morning by 7:30 am, taping off the nest area with yellow tape and signage. Now that's dedication!

Photo credit: Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring

Five Types of Anna Maria Island Sea Turtles

There are five types of turtles that call the Anna Maria Island area home. They graze mainly on sea grasses, algae and jellyfish in the waters surrounding our little island. Once a female reaches the age between 16 to 30 years she returns to the beach to lay her nest. Many of the turtles listed below are on the endangered species list, due to commercial harvesting of eggs and meat, Fibropapillomatosis, a debilitating tumor producing disease, coastal development of nesting habitats, marine debris (plastic bags), disorientation of hatchlings from beachfront lighting, watercraft strikes, predators, and commercial fishing operations.

Green Sea Turtle

Status: Endangered

Size: 4 feet, 440 lbs

Description: Large, heart shaped shell, small head, single clawed flippers, varied colours

Diet: Sea grass and algae

Hatchlings Description: Black carapace (shell), white plastron and limbs

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Status: Endangered

Size: 2.5 feet, 175 lbs

Description: Small, Eeongated tear drop shaped shell, overlapping carapace (shell), small head with hawk-like beak, two claw flippers, brown with splashes of yellow or light brown

Diet: primarily eats sponges

Hatchlings Description: Black carapace (shell), black plastron and limbs

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Status: Endangered

Size: 2 feet, 100 lbs

Description: Small,oval egg-shaped shell, small head with hawk-like beak, trangle shaped head, olive-grey colour

Diet: primarily eats crabs

Hatchlings Description: Black carapace (shell), black plastron and limbs

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Status: Endangered

Size: 8 feet, 2000 lbs

Description: Large, tear-drop, leathery skin-type shell, small head with hawk-like beak, pink spot on head, pale-grey to black colour, with lighter spotted lines, padle-like clawless flippers

Diet: primarily eats jellyfish, squid and crustaceans

Hatchlings Description: Black carapace (shell), black plastron and limbs

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Status: Threatened

Size: 3 feet, 200 lbs

Description: Oval egg-shaped shell, large head with blunt jaws, trangle shaped head, reddish-brown colour, pastron is yellow

Diet: primarily eats mollusks, crustaceans, and fish

Hatchlings Description: Light-brown to black carapace (shell), black plastron and limbs

Hatchling Facts

  • A sea turtle nest is called a 'CLUTCH'

  • Sea turtles lay on average 110 eggs per clutch

  • Sea turtles nest on the same beaches where they were born

  • Eggs look like soft round ping pong balls and are soft to the touch

Photo credit: Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring

  • Once a nest is laid female turtles never return to tend to it

  • Sea turtles must lay their eggs in the sand because the embryos breath air through their shell

  • Hatchlings range in size from 1 - 2 inches in length

  • Hatchlings usually emerge from nests at night, using the moonlight reflection as a guide to the shoreline

  • Hatchlings are attracted to light and will head in the direction of the brightest illumination

  • Hatchlings emerge together to increase their chances of survival

  • Hatchlings can lose up to 20% of their body mass due to dehydration as they journey to the ocean

  • Hatchlings can swim up to 20 hours from birth, to take them far out into the ocean

  • Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood

  • Sex is determined by the temperature of the underground nest (higher temperatures = females, lower temperatures = males)

A Florida Sea Turtle Study Video

Sea turtle nests are incubated for approximately 90 days. Hatchlings usually emerge during the months of August, September and October. The weather is still hot during that time, ranging from

Sea Turtle Protection Laws You Need to Know About

  • No parking or driving motor vehicles on nesting habitat

  • All artificial lights visible from the nesting beaches must be turned off from May to October

  • All trash, beach chairs, toys, tents and paraphernalia must be removed from the beach daily

  • "Sea turtles are either endangered or threatened... They are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 and Florida's Marine Turtle Protection Act (379.2431, Florida Statutes). Florida Statutes (F.A.C. Rule 68E-1) restrict the take, possession, disturbance, mutilation, destruction, selling, transference, molestation, and harassment of marine turtles, nests or eggs. Protection is also afforded to marine turtle habitat. A specific authorization from Commission staff is required to conduct scientific, conservation, or educational activities that directly involve marine turtles in or collected from Florida, their nests, hatchlings or parts thereof, regardless of applicant's possession of any federal permit. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) dually review permits for coastal construction under Chapter 62B, Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.). that affects Marine Turtles."

How You Can Make a Difference

LEARN: Enjoy a 'Turtle Talk' seminar and discover more about our Anna Maria turtles. Perfect for all ages with videos, handouts, activity books and tattoos for kids. Free admission. Turtle Talks take place each Tuesday at 10:00 am during June and July at the at the CrossPointe Fellowship Church, 8605 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach

LIGHTS: Turn off, shield or curtain any exterior or interior lights that are visible to the beach

No flashlights, photographic flashbulbs, or bonfires are allowed on the beach from May to October

DO NOT DISTURB: If you experience a nest hatching, stay still, remain quiet and do not block hatchlings from their path to the Gulf of Mexico. Do not touch any nests that have not hatched. If you see a cage over a nest, it's normal. Cages are placed to protect hatchlings from predators and nearby light disruption.

CONSUME: Choose fish and seafood that is sustainable

CLEAN: Clean the beach each time you visit (do not take plastic bags to the beach)

FLATTEN BEACH: Keep the beach flat, remove sandcastles, fill in holes to avoid obstacles for the turtles

CONSERVE: Report an unmarked, hatching, disrupted nest or eggs to the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch

BOATING: Be alert when boating to avoid strikes, keep garbage inside the boat

DUNES: Avoid walking on dunes and plants (sea oats) that support the nesting habitat

ADOPT A NEST: You can help support AMI Turtle Watch program by adopting a nest for a $100.00 tax deductible donation. Donate here.

VOLUNTEER: If you feel like getting more involved, volunteer to patrol the beach at dawn monitoring sea turtle nests. Volunteer here.

REPORT: Anyone harassing a sea turtle or interfering with hatchlings or nesting faces criminal penalties up to $50,000. Report to Florida Marine Patrol 1-800-DIAL-FMP

CONTACT: If you need to report an injured or dead turtle or hatchling wandering on the roadways, call the AMI Turtle Watch at 941-778-5638

Florida Wildlife Conservation Hotline 1-888-404-3922

What's the temperature during fall season on Anna Maria Island?

The warm weather makes it ideal for sea turtle eggs to incubate and hatchlings to survive in their first few days and months of life. It's also the perfect time to visit Florida.

Average Climate Temperatures Average Gulf Temperatures

August High 93F / 34C Gulf 87F / 31C

September High 90F / 32C Gulf 86F / 30C

October High 86F / 30C Gulf 82F / 28C

Where to stay

Anna Maria Island Home Rentals provides you with luxurious waterfront private homes perfect for boating and water sports. Stay in one of bright and cheery 'Sirenia' branded vacation rentals and you, like many of our previous guests will want to return again and again. We go out of our way to provide customer service and amenities that can't be matched. We even offer online booking of things to do and local activities, like bike, golf cart, kayak rentals and more.

A sampling of Anna Maria Island Home Rentals extra amenities:

(see properties page for amenities of each vacation rental - Sirenia Beach House photo above)

Tiki Huts

Hammocks

Heated Pools

Hot Tubs

Free Access to Fitness Center

Large Fluffy Beach Towels

Ping Pong Tables

Basketball Nets

Sauna

Docks

Fully Outfitted Kitchens

Gas & Charcoal Grills

Outdoor Showers

Beach Carts, Coolers and Toys

Walking Distance to Beaches

Please feel free to contact us if you are interested in visiting Anna Maria Island during sea turtle hatchling season or book securely online.

Want to save this article? Use the buttons below to save it to your favourite social media forum.

Links and Resources:

NOAA Fisheries - Sea Turtles

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch

Sea Turtle Conservancy

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