Mote Marine cutting back on turtle nest marking

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SARASOTA - Sea turtle nesting season begins this Wednesday, but some new changes at Mote Marine Laboratory will have you seeing fewer nests on local beaches. But that doesn't mean the nests aren't there.

A lack of funding will prevent Mote Marine from marking every nest like they've done in the past. And now some local businesses are upset they're the ones having to foot the bill.

We've all seen those tell-tale signs of a turtle nest on the beach; the wooden stakes wrapped in caution tape telling beachgoers not to mess with the nest. This year those markings will be fewer and farther between.

"Mote is charging a fee this year to mark those nests on a daily basis, which they have not done in the past for private guys like me." Tom Proffitt's company, The Sand Raker, contracts with beachfront properties to rake their sand, making it smooth to walk on and free of any trash or debris. His permit to do so says the sand can only be raked once any turtle nests have been found and staked out every day.

In the past, Mote Marine has done the marking for free, but this year it's charging a fee to companies like Proffitt's. “Quite frankly, it’s been frustrating. Simply because at the eleventh hour they just came out with this new fee in the last few weeks, and I have 53 contracts or relationships with condos."

"It’s based on the fact that the number of nests has increased over the years, as well as the funding for marking nests has decreased over the years," says Mote turtle program coordinator Kristen Mazzarella.

The fees are charged per foot of beach, but the amounts vary by location. Each foot of beach on Longboat Key will cost $1.60, $.88 a foot on Siesta Key, and $.57 a foot on Lido.

Proffitt says he was informed of the new fee structure only last Thursday, just days before the official start of nesting season. Some of his clients are already opting to drop the raking, and thus avoid the new fees.

“I know of four specific that have told us flat out, no they're not going to have any beach raking during turtle season…told me to call them back in November."

Mote officials say while fewer nests will be marked, they don't think the safety of the baby turtles will be compromised. "There's not a huge danger to nests to leave them unmarked, that people might dig them up or might come across them when they put in an umbrella, but it’s such a rare occasion that it’s not that big of a concern," says Mazzarella.

And while funding can come and go, Proffitt says he expects these fees to be the new normal. "This is a new reality. My fear is that in the years going forward this fee is now here and it’s not going to go away. I don't see Mote ever saying okay, we'll pick up the charges now."

To clear up any confusion, Mote volunteers will still be walking the beaches every morning and documenting every new nest, so there will be an accurate count. However they just won't be marking every single nest with the stakes.