Florida on a Tankful: Turtle Talk at Anna Maria Island

By Scott Fais, Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2017, 7:53 AM EDT

Hitting the sand along Florida’s Gulf Coast is a morning routine Denise Gardner enjoys sharing with the curious.

  • Group watches over Anna Maria Island sea turtles
  • They have protected 4,500 turtle nesting sites over 30 years
  • Weekly 'Turtle Talks' educate public on conservation efforts

"She came in and she came this way,” said Denise Gardner in her bright yellow shirt with the word "Volunteer" plastered on the back.

Denise is passionate about what crawls out of the Gulf while most people sleep.

"They nest at night,” she said, looking at fresh tracks in the sand.

"The flippers are going like this,” she demonstrates, flipping her hands in circles in a rhythmic dance-like pattern. "Then, she gets over the circle and releases her clutch of eggs,” Denise said of how mother sea turtles will visit Anna Maria Island under the cloak of darkness.

The "Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch" group that Denise is part of has protected 4,500 loggerhead and green turtle nesting sites over the past three decades.

“We're only as healthy environmentally as the turtles are,” Denise said.

Yet, every Tuesday morning, Denise leaves the beach behind and heads to the church with a rather large architectural feature.

"A big nose,” said Suzi Fox, the director of Anna Marie Island Turtle Watch of the Cross Point Church that holds weekly "Turtle Talks."

"Humans and sea turtles and shore birds can all share the same beach,” Suzi says.

Denise, Suzi and an army of volunteers give weekly talks about sea turtle habits, nesting and their babies. Floridians and vacationers alike learn about the conservation effort along 12 miles of Manatee County shoreline.

"Pick up all your beach toys at the end of the day and take them home. You got to fill in any holes that you dig,” said a volunteer to a group of children who left with coloring books and temporary turtle tattoos.

While the “Turtle Talk Ladies” lectures take place in a church, their ministry is here on the sand. In fact, much like faith, you won't see a sea turtle in class or on the beach during daylight hours. Yet if you follow their tracks, you know that the turtles have been here.

"We don't need to watch sea turtles to collect that data,” Suzi explained. “We need to watch their crawls coming in."

Back on the beach, Denise finds a fresh track from the night before leading back to the Gulf of Mexico.

"She went back out this way into the water," Denise concludes, looking at where the waves meet the sand.

Know before you go:

Turtle Talk takes place at 10 a.m. Tuesday mornings in June, July and August. Classes are free. Reservations are not required.

Turtle Walks take place at 6:30 a.m. Thursday mornings in June, July and August. Head to the end of 66th Street. Walk north until you spot nesting activity on the beach and see the yellow “Volunteer” shirts. Cost is free.

Learn more information here with this link. And on Facebook.

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