Turtle watch volunteers play key role in research

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MANATEE COUNTY - With one month down and five more to go, sea turtle nesting season is well underway. And the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers are hard at work, searching for nests and collecting data along Suncoast beaches.

“We have nine sections on this island, and each section has a coordinator, and each coordinator has a walker for every day.” Glenn Wiseman is the education director for the turtle watch. Each morning at sunrise, volunteers walk up and down their designated sections looking for signs of sea turtles. “They look for the tracks and determine if it's a false crawl, where the turtle came up and didn't lay any eggs, and just went back to the gulf; or she indeed laid an egg and a nest.”

If they find a nest, they mark it off, and continue monitoring it for about 60 days. That's how long it takes for the eggs to hatch.

Then, three days after the hatchlings leave the nest, the volunteers count the egg shells to determine how many were laid, and report their data.

With only one in one thousand hatchlings that survive, Wiseman says that data is critical to research. “Loggerhead sea turtles are a threatened species. And in order to get money to continue research on the species, we need numbers, and this is how we get our numbers; we count the number of hatchlings, we count the number of eggs and the number of crawls on the beach, and that's how we get funded.”

Nesting season lasts through the end of October, and Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch will monitor the nests throughout the entire season.