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2018 Sea Turtle Nesting Season is Underway

You Can Help Hatchlings Get a Head Start

Guest Editorial – Op/Ed

2018 Sea Turtle Nesting Season is Here

Sea turtles are some of the most beloved marine creatures in the world. Here in Florida we are lucky – nearly 70% of all the sea turtle nests in North America nests are laid on our beaches. Each year, from March to October, these loveable animals return to Florida’s shores to lay the eggs of the next generation. Unfortunately sea turtles are under great pressure both locally and globally. Across the state various groups and organizations, such as the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program, are working to help protect nesting turtles and their hatchlings.

Anyone who has visited a Florida beach during the summer has probably seen those wooden stakes in the sand tied together with brightly colored ribbon. And if you’ve seen those nests, you’ve probably wondered what it’s all about.

In a nutshell, cordoning off the nests helps avoid them being unnecessarily disturbed – or worse. After the babies hatch, marine research scientists, students and volunteers excavate the nests to gather as much data as possible so we can learn more about sea turtles as well as help any “stragglers” who didn’t follow their siblings to the ocean.

We do this because sea turtles are incredibly important – they’re a “keystone species” that can show the overall health of their environment. If turtles are doing well that means the marine ecosystem and coral reefs are doing well, too.

You don’t have to belong to a conservation group to help sea turtles. There are a couple simple steps you can take to help out the sea turtle population.

First, if you see a mother turtle on the beach, enjoy the experience but please do it from afar. Don’t interact with her (no flashlights or flash photography, remain still and observe from at least 50 feet away, NO selfies.) If you disturb her, she may retreat back to the ocean. If she’s scared off too many times, she may simply discard her eggs in the sea.

Something else to be aware of when heading to the beach – trash. The polluting of the marine habitat (old fishing nets, lines and hooks or various bits of plastic) is wreaking havoc on sea turtles and other marine life. There are many instances where turtles were found to have a significant amount of plastic in their stomachs, which directly contributed to their death. For us a plastic bag is just that, a bag. But in the water they can resemble a jellyfish, which is a tasty treat for a sea turtle. If you go fishing, be sure to clean up your nets, lines and hooks. It’s also very important to gather up your trash when you leave the beach or make sure you keep trash on your boat and discard it the right way when you reach shore.

Another factor that is negatively effecting sea turtles is light pollution on our coastal communities. For millennia turtle hatchlings and mothers have sought the brightest light in the night sky – the moon and stars over the water – as a beacon for them to follow to the sea. Today, however, that streetlight may be brighter than the moon, disorienting the babies and causing them to head away from the ocean. That’s why amber or red lights are used up and down the coastline. These “turtle friendly” lights allow humans to see while ensuring turtle hatchlings see the moon and head toward the ocean to begin their journey.

As Floridians we’re fortunate that we get to witness the annual spectacle when tens of thousands of sea turtles return to our shores to lay their eggs. Much of what is causing distress for sea turtles is man-made, and as such we have the ability to fix the problem.

Sea turtles are incredible creatures, so let’s work together to ensure these animals endure for generations to come.

 

 

Dr. Derek Burkholder

Research Scientist, Guy Harvey Research Institute & Save Our Seas Shark Research Center
Director, Marine Environmental Education Center at the Carpenter House
Director, Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program

 

Nova Southeastern University fully supports an individual’s right to express their viewpoint and opinions. The views expressed in this guest editorial are that of Derek Burkholder, Ph.D. in Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography and are not necessarily those of NSU, its President or Board of Trustees.