ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION

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Suncoast Charities for Children provides support to five area non-profit agencies in the Sarasota County area serving over 8,000 clients with special needs and their families. Over the past 30 years, Suncoast Charities for Children has produced the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix Festival, which last year alone generated a local economic impact of $32 million. Thanks to the proceeds raised from the Festival, Suncoast Charities for Children has been able to make annual grants to the Suncoast Foundation to construct facilities serving those with special needs on a campus now valued at over $20 million.

As the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix Festival has grown in popularity over the years, fans have started setting up on the beach as early as 5:00 a.m., obstructing the nesting sea turtles paths to the water and blocking the volunteers from marking fresh nests.

Appreciating the importance of protecting our sea turtles, Suncoast Charities for Children, the City and County of Sarasota, along with Powerboat P1 USA have teamed up to launch the Share the Beach Campaign. It's a simple thing to do with a powerful, positive impact on marine conservation: Share the Beach with the sea turtles by giving the beach to the sea turtles at night and waiting till sunrise to hit the beach for the races.

But why stop with sea turtles?! We can Share the Beach with the manatees swimming along the shore by giving the manatees the right of way so they don't get spooked and swim into the race course.

But why stop at Sarasota?! Let's spread the word to Share the Beach all over Florida!

WHAT CAN I DO?

Be kind to marine life during this boating season

As the weather warms up and you enjoy Southwest Florida's coastal waters this boating season, Mote Marine Laboratory recommends that boaters follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles, manatees and dolphins.

Please see below for tips for beachgoers and boaters.

Protect sea turtles on the beach

All sea turtle species are threatened or endangered, and state and federal laws prohibit the taking, possession, disturbance, mutilation, destruction, molestation and harassment of marine turtles, nests or eggs. Florida state law states that any person who violates this law commits a third degree felony.

The official season for sea turtle nesting on the Gulf Coast of Florida begins May 1 and ends October 31, but nesting turtles may be here sooner or hatch later. Mote scientists monitor sea turtle nesting along 35 miles of beaches from Longboat Key through Venice.

Mote, a nonprofit research and education institution, the Sarasota Police Department, and Suncoast Charities for Children, a nonprofit organization that provides funding support to Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children, Inc. through events like the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix festival, would like to remind residents and visitors to help keep local waters and beaches safe for summer recreation and sea turtle nesting season.

"Florida has some of the most gorgeous beaches, and we encourage residents and visitors to enjoy these beaches and the beautiful water, especially during the summer holidays, but as we do so, we should keep in mind that our oceans are home to wondrous marine life. Abiding by coast-guard approved safe boating practices and following city or county sea turtle ordinances will help ensure the health and safety for all," said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President and CEO of Mote.

Keeping local waters and beaches safe will be especially important during the Memorial Day weekend, when local waters and beaches will be busy for the holiday, and the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix off Lido Beach, which is Saturday, July 2, and Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Special Note about the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix, which is held during sea turtle nesting season: The Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix is an annual off shore boat racing event off Lido Beach, Sarasota, Florida. While you're enjoying the race and other summer events, it is important to remember to be mindful of local marine life.

As the boat race takes place during sea turtle nesting season, the Sarasota Police Department, Mote and Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix event partners would like to remind the public of the entire Sarasota County Sea Turtle Protection Ordinance, Chapter 54, Article XXIII of the Sarasota County Code of Ordinances, which protects endangered sea turtles on all local beaches, including Lido Beach, throughout nesting season, May 1 – Oct. 31.

The Sarasota County Sea Turtle Protection Ordinance requires that any "temporary structures, including but not limited to beach chairs, umbrellas and cabanas which have the potential for entrapment of marine turtles and which may interfere with the use of the natural beach environment for nesting habitat, be removed from the beach nightly, from sunset to sunrise." Beach furniture and other beach equipment, toys or trash left on the beach overnight during sea turtle nesting season can pose a serious entanglement hazard and obstacle for sea turtles and their hatchlings.

The City of Sarasota also recently amended Sarasota City Code Sec. 22-4 regarding beach closure hours. Now, both the City and the County's ordinances require that public beaches be closed from 11 p.m. until sunrise, from June 30 until July 10. This means that Lido Key beach will be closed to all beachgoers and race spectators until sunrise during the 4th of July holiday events.

During this extended closure time, the Sarasota Police Department will be working with other law enforcement agencies, Mote and Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix event partners to ensure a safe and fun holiday for all beachgoers, including the sea turtle kind!

To comply with the City and County ordinances,beachgoers should wait until at least sunrise (6:30 a.m. during the boat races) to set up furniture or equipment. This will allow any new turtle crawls and nests to be documented by Mote scientists. If you see turtle tracks not yet documented by Mote (documented tracks are crossed out with an 'X'), please avoid placing furniture on them if possible and call Mote's Turtle Patrol at 941-388-4331 to report their location.

In addition, please do not approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, do not make noise around turtles and their nests, and do not use fireworks, flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach. Artificial lights can disorient nesting turtles and their hatchlings, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea.

Beachgoers should stay away from sea turtle nests marked with yellow stakes and tape, and seabird nesting zones that are bounded by ropes.

Dogs are not allowed on Sarasota County beaches other than Brohard Paw Park in Venice, where they must be leashed or under voice control, according to county ordinances.

Suncoast Charities for Children, the local nonprofit organization that organizes the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix Festival, fully supports utilizing all available best practices to protect Florida's wonderful natural resources and diverse wildlife.

"Our Board of Directors and Powerboat P1 USA fully support any necessary changes implemented this year to ensure that we can all safely share our beaches," said Festival Director Lucy Nicandri."Powerboat P1 USA has committed to implementing environmental protection measures in partnership with its event partners during all local racing events and has directed the P1 Marine Foundation to undertake a local environmental awareness and education program in support of the shared mission to safeguard and restore the marine and coastal environment."

Additionally, Lido Beach has a large nesting colony of Black Skimmers. Their nests often consist of simple scrapes in the sand. The birds and their nests are vulnerable to human disturbance and to predation by domestic dogs, raccoons and laughing gulls. Any harassment or taking of protected birds, their young, their nest or their eggs, is a violation of Florida law and may subject violators to criminal penalties.

For more information, please visit www.audubon.org/content/audubon-florida

Personal property on the beach:

In addition to expanded marine, foot and vehicle patrols, the Sarasota Police Department will be protecting public safety during the Sarasota Grand Prix weekend by posting signs prohibiting beachgoers from storing and leaving unattended personal property on Lido Beach. This is for the protection of all beachgoers and their belongings, to help ensure a safe and orderly race and beach-going experience.

Watch out for dolphins, manatees and turtles at sea

Dolphins give birth during late spring and summer. Dolphins do not, or cannot always get out of the way of approaching boats, and fatal collisions and serious injuries to dolphins occur in Sarasota Bay. The Bay's resident dolphins frequent shallow waters where they may be unable to dive below an approaching boat. Naïve newborn dolphins lack the skills and experience to avoid boats, and have to surface more frequently to breathe than do older dolphins. Most dolphin deaths and injuries from boat strikes have occurred in the weeks surrounding July 4.

Manatees are also on the move in the Bay for foraging and mating. People might observe mating herds – several manatees gathered as males vie to mate with a female.

If you observe a manatee mating herd, watch the manatees from at least 100 feet away. Coming any closer might disrupt the animals' natural mating behavior or put people into harm's way. Adult manatees typically weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds and people can be seriously injured.

Sea turtles are swimming just offshore to mate and females inhabit nearshore waters between nesting events before they come ashore to nest. So far this year, Mote's animal rescuers have responded to or received many distressed or deceased sea turtles, including several affected by human activity.

Tips for boaters:

Follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines, comply with slow speed zone signs and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles, manatees and dolphins.
Follow 10 simple dolphin-friendly viewing tips on how to enjoy your day on the water while helping to protect dolphins. Click here for a PDF. These tips were made with dolphins in mind, but they're also great guidelines for the best ways to view all large marine animals.
Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine life in your path.
Never feed marine wildlife. Click here to watch a PSA about why it's harmful and illegal to feed wild dolphins: www.dontfeedwilddolphins.org
Be sure to stow trash and line when under way. Marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a vehicle can become ingested by or entangled around marine life.
Emergency contacts

Within Sarasota or Manatee county waters, if you see an entangled, stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle, please call Mote's Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at 941-988-0212.

If you see an entangled, stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or an entangled, stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties please call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC, *FWC on your cellular phone or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.

YOU CAN HELP

• Wait till sunrise to hit the beach during nesting season

• Be on the lookout for marked and unmarked sea turtle nests

• Stay clear of manatees and give them the right of way

• Show your support by wearing an awesome Hook Tribe Share the Beach t-shirt

A portion of the proceeds from your purchase of a Hook Tribe Share the Beach t-shirt will go to Suncoast Charities for Children, the folks helping our children and protecting our beaches for generations of children to come.