Sarasota Bay Eco-tourism

Viewing Wildlife

Bryan at Myakka State Park on the TowerIn 2006, wildlife viewing activities generated more than $3 billion in Florida.

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Sarasota Bay and the Gulf beaches provide essential habitat for endangered wildlife year round. Our estuary and coasts have special needs in the summer months that impact on bird nesting activities and the welfare of other wildlife. Being aware and respectful of these endangered species and their nesting activities is critical for their viability.

Sea Turtles

From May 1 through October 31 sea turtles nest on our local beaches. Sarasota County beaches provide nesting grounds for threatened loggerhead (Caretta caretta) sea turtles, endangered green (Chelonia mydas) sea turtles and other sea turtle species. Florida’s west coast hosts the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Gulf of Mexico. Here is what you can do to protect nesting sea turtles if you live near beach areas:

Baby Sea Turtle

Photo courtesy of Deborah Chapman

  1. Pick up litter, fill in holes, and never leave furniture or debris laying on the beach.
  2. Tint windows that face the beach.
  3. Turn off lights visible on nesting beaches or shield the lights from the beach.
  4. Use Turtle Safe Lighting (red lights emit a very narrow portion of the visible light spectrum, which is less intrusive to nesting sea turtles and hatchlings).
  5. If disoriented hatchlings are found away from the sea, call local law enforcement.
  6. Close opaque curtains or blinds after dark to cover windows visible from the beach.

Beach Nesting Birds

Snowy Plover adult and chick

Photo courtesy of Lou Newman

From February through August threatened species such as snowy plovers, Wilson’s plovers, least terns and black skimmers nest on our local beaches. Due to human interference and vandalism these nests have not been successful in the last few years. This is a serious problem for the continued existence of these protected species. Here is what you can do to protect beach nesting birds:

  1. Pick up litter, fill in holes, and never leave furniture or debris laying on the beach.
  2. Keep dogs and pets off the beach.
  3. Respect posted nesting areas.
  4. NEVER FEED WILDLIFE. Gulls, crows and raccoons prey on eggs and chicks. When you feed them you draw them to near-by nesting sites in greater numbers.
  5. Avoid flying kites or throwing rocks near designated beach-nesting bird areas. The nests and chicks are very well camouflaged. You may trample nests and birds without even knowing it!
  6. Snowy Plover Chick
    Photo courtesy of Lou Newman

    Stick close to the water’s edge and avoid the vegetated upper beach and dune areas. Stay on established paths when crossing vegetation. The birds nest in, near and around the vegetated dune areas of the beach. Beach visitors can unknowingly step on newly hatched chicks.

  7. Promote sharing the beach with other species. Consider volunteering to help groups like Audubon of Florida to monitor and protect local bird populations.

To report violations call 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). Beach nesting birds are a threatened species and protected by the State of Florida.

Marine Mammals

We have other protected species living in and around Sarasota Bay. Dolphins and manatees also call Sarasota Bay home. Both are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and or the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to harass, feed, pet or otherwise interfere with the natural behavior of both dolphins and manatees. Please stay at least 50 yards away from these animals at all times. Also, please do not ever feed dolphins or manatees in the wild.

  • Visit www.dontfeedwilddolphins.org to watch a video about how feeding dolphins and other wildlife disrupts their natural behavior and puts them in danger.

Dolphins

Sarasota Bay is home to about 140 Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Dolphins hunt, socialize and raise their young in the protected and productive waters of Sarasota Bay. Please do not ever feed dolphins in the wild.

Manatees

ManateesThe West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) are grazing marine mammals native to Florida and the Caribbean. West Indian manatees have no natural enemies, and it is believed they can live 60 years or more. Humans are a potential threat to manatees because of the props of high powered boats. Other causes of human-related manatee mortalities include being crushed and or drowned in canal locks and flood control structures; ingestion of fish hooks, litter and monofilament line; and entanglement in crab trap lines. The loss of habitat is the most serious threat facing manatees today. There are approximately 3,000 West Indian manatees remaining in the United States.

Scrub JayBirding Hot Spots

Birding is the most popular outdoor recreation activity in the United States. It is also a significant source of tourism dollars here in the Sarasota Bay region. Sarasota County www.scgov.net/calendar and Manatee County www.mymanatee.org offers birding tours at local nature preserves.

Big WhelkBeach Combing

Our local beaches are home to many invertebrates marine species who live in shells. Scallops, clams, whelks and crabs all leave behind their shell homes. Algae, seaweed and seagrass also wash up on our shores. This mixture of plants and shells that washes up on the beach with every tide is called the wrack line and can provide shelter for marine insects and forage grounds for birds.

StarfishLive shelling is illegal in Florida. That means it is illegal to take a shell that has a live animal in it. It is also illegal to kill the animal to get the shell. This protects starfish and sand dollars from collection too. Please only take shells vacated by living species.