Vacationers call rescuers to help hundreds of wayward sea turtles on Madeira Beach

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Sea turtle numbers are on the rise. Mote Marine Laboratory says this has been a record-breaking year for nests in the Sarasota area.

Turtle watchers have counted more than 5,000 and, with two months left until the end of sea turtle season, they are expecting more. They say beach visitors and residents have to stay vigilant until all of the hatchlings have gone out to sea.

That means turning off lights, filling in holes, and making sure turtles have a safe route to the shoreline.

Monday night in Madeira Beach, that was not the case. Dozens of turtles were disoriented by lights and almost ended up in harm’s way. Thankfully, some beachgoers stepped in to help.

“All of a sudden I saw movement out of the corner of my eye,” Tish Dallas told FOX 13 News. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here.’ Then, all of a sudden, I saw another one and another one and there were dozens of them.”

Dallas is vacationing on Madeira Beach and wasn’t expecting to become a volunteer wildlife rescuer, but she did.

“I was just so worried. They were all moving through the patio toward the street and I thought, 'They can’t be on Gulf Boulevard. They have to be in the ocean,’” she said. “I couldn’t figure out why they were on the patio. I just knew they shouldn’t be there.”

Tish called the FWC and law enforcement, for help but the turtles kept coming.

Donna Stanford found herself in a similar situation. She and her family scooped up a basket-full of tiny turtles.

“There was just hundreds of them running in the patio,” she recalled. “We grabbed whatever we could to put these poor little turtles, hatchlings in the basket just to save them.”

Wildlife photographer and rescuer Doc Jon helped organize Dallas, Stanford, and others to canvas the area for more baby turtles. They discovered that two nests had hatched, and instead of going to the shoreline, he says they followed bright lights of the nearby hotels.

“I had never seen anything like it. There were literally close to 100 turtles everywhere on the beach, running into the dunes toward the hotel lights from all the buildings on this beach,” Jon said.

To report someone disturbing a sea turtle nest, or an injured, dead or harassed sea turtle, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward. To report sea turtle nesting season lighting violations, please contact local code enforcement or the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline for more information.