Calling all photographers! Sea Turtle Conservancy is looking for talented photographers (amateur or professional) for our annual Sea Turtle Calendar Contest! The sea turtle calendar reminds people throughout the year that sea turtles need our help to survive, and it includes important sea turtle dates like World Sea Turtle Day, Earth Day and World Oceans Day. Contributing to the calendar is a great way to help spread the word about sea turtle conservation!
We had an amazing calendar filled with beautiful images last year, and we are looking forward to the great submissions for next year’s calendar! We are only accepting photograph submissions for the 2023 calendar, NO artwork.
Image must be submitted by the actual photographer or include written permission for submission from the photographer.
Image must show turtles in a natural setting and follow turtle-friendly guidelines (i.e. no flash images of nesting sea turtles, no images of people handling sea turtles, etc.)
Initial email submissions should be a small file (no larger than 10 MB) but a high resolution version of the image must be available for final printing if selected.
Photographers may only enter a maximum of three photographs.
The winners will be announced in STC’s monthly e-newsletter (Sea Turtle Talk), website and Facebook. Each winner will receive two free calendars and an STC t-shirt!
By submitting your image to firstname.lastname@example.org before September 20, you are granting STC rights to use your photography for the 2023 Sea Turtle Scenes Calendar and other STC education and promotional initiatives. STC will not distribute your image without your written permission.
You’re invited to join the Sea Turtle Conservancy on Sunday, July 31 in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge as we attach satellite transmitters to two adult loggerhead turtles and release them back to the sea as part of our Tour de Turtles migration marathon!
We recommend arriving around 7:30 am. Turtles will be released at 8:30 am. After the turtles are released, you can track them online at www.tourdeturtles.org.
There will also be fun, family-friendly educational activities and free giveaways. Event t-shirts will be available for $20. More info in the flyer below!
Location: Barrier Island Center, 8385 S Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951
Time: 8:30 am EST
This year marks a decade since we lost Lisa, and she remains at the heart of all we do for the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC).
Lisa came into the world in Naperville, IL, on August 17, 1968. A serious heart condition, later diagnosed as severe tetralogy of fallot, necessitated her immediate transfer to Children’s Memorial Hospital (now Lurie Children’s) in downtown Chicago. The Democratic Convention began there nine days later, and chaotic demonstrations erupted on the streets. Mom recalled vividly the smell of tear gas and protestors pounding on the car as she drove to get to Lisa’s bedside. It was a most colorful start for our brave sister, our family’s youngest.
The challenges of living with a chronic pediatric disease so rare that adult medicine was ill-equipped to treat it required Lisa to receive care and surgical support from pediatric physicians throughout her lifetime. Florida’s climate was far gentler on Lisa’s health than Minnesota, where we grew up; she moved to Ft. Lauderdale in the 1990s and ultimately relocated to Ft. Myers, where she put down roots. There, Lisa became acquainted with STC, and a passion for sea turtles began. It brought her great joy to support STC, and to track sea turtles online through Tour de Turtles events. Even as her health started to decline, Lisa’s beautiful soul, sharp wit, humble nature, adventurous spirit, great love for animals, and generous heart never dimmed.
With the support of Executive Director David Godfrey, the Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund was established by her family after Lisa’s sudden passing from complications of her disease at the age of 43 on May 2, 2012. This is the first endowment fund created by donors, which, we know, would make Lisa very proud. There are many kind and generous people in the STC Community that support our fundraising and each of them has our enduring gratitude.
Linda, Tom, Jenny, Diane, Jerry, & Kenny
As we mentioned, this year marks a decade since we lost Lisa, and she remains at the heart of all we do for STC. Some of our achievements over the last decade include:
The Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund was established by our family in 2013 to honor Lisa and her love of sea turtles. Annual family gifts and fundraising are our focus.
In January 2013, Mom, Diane, and I began hand-sewing Lisa’s Fundanas, sea turtle-themed bandanas, to raise money for the Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund. In total, 334 Fundanas were shipped to 28 states and a number of countries abroad.
In 2015, the Randgaard family gave personal funds to help renovate the staff office building at STC’s research outpost in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, now named the Lisa Jo Randgaard Building.
Since 2015, fundraising centers on Flippery When Wet artisan soaps, Diane’s handmade sea-turtle stamped bars. To date, 2,411 soaps have shipped to 31 states and two Canadian provinces. To learn more and to order, please visit LoveIntoSustainedAction.com.
We committed at the start to donate to Lisa’s Fund100% of ALL money raised from our fundraising, and we have kept that promise. Mom left us in 2016, but she remains an angel on our shoulder as we move forward.
Currently, the Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund totals $110,473. Our goal is to reach a minimum of $1 million in principal gifts.
I have committed a gift of $50,000 to Lisa’s Fund in honor of my late husband, Kenny, who passed away in 2020. Kenny led our family’s vision by making the first donation in 2013.
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The Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP), funded by the sale of Florida’s “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, recently awarded $445,550.59 to 26 different projects benefiting Florida sea turtles as part of the 2022-2023 grant funding cycle. Since it’s inception, the Sea Turtle License Plate Grants Program has awarded more than $7 million to conservation projects.
Florida’s sea turtles face a number of threats to their survival – coastal development, poor water quality, ingestion of marine debris, and artificial lighting – but they also have a lot of people in their corner that fight to protect them. Among these people are coastal code enforcement officers who survey the lighting on beachfront properties during sea turtle nesting season and work with coastal property owners to comply with their local ordinances. Because the State of Florida leaves it up to individual counties and municipalities to adopt and enforce their own sea turtle lighting ordinances, local government officials are on the front lines of protecting their local sea turtle populations from disorientation by poorly managed lights.
This task is not for the faint of heart. Although sea turtle nesting season occurs mostly during the summer months, code enforcement officers spend the winter preparing their communities for nesting season by sending out reminders to turn off lights or use sea turtle friendly lighting, compiling violation data, conducting pre-season lighting surveys, and tending to other code enforcement-related responsibilities that don’t involve their sea turtle lighting ordinances. In addition, a code enforcement officer’s coastal territory often covers several miles and dozens of coastal properties – all with potentially problematic lighting that needs to be addressed. Some officers utilize off-road vehicles at night to cover the extensive stretches of beach, while others conduct their lighting surveys by foot.
Chris Kopp, the only code enforcement officer for the Town of Longboat Key, prefers the latter method. His survey area is 11 miles long and hosts the second-highest number of disorientations in Florida. He recently spearheaded the effort to update the Town’s sea turtle lighting ordinance to reflect the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s new Model Lighting Ordinance and regularly assists code enforcement officers across the state with doing the same. Below, we talk with Chris about how he manages his time as a department of one, his enforcement style, and his favorite sea turtle experience.
What is your education and career background?
I am Florida born and raised. I have over 20 years of combined military, law enforcement, and code enforcement experience. I served two tours on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2007, I began my enforcement career with the Margate Police Department in Florida, before transferring to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina. In 2019, I turned my part time gig of teaching active shooter survival into a full-time business with Lockdown International. In 2020, I returned to Florida as the Code Enforcement Officer for the Town of Longboat Key. I hold a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Administration and several advanced certifications in the enforcement fields.
How did you end up as a code enforcement officer on Longboat Key?
I was looking for a career opportunity which allowed me to use my professional experience and desire to work with the community in public service. The Town of Longboat Key was always a beautiful place to visit during family vacations. Longboat Key gives you that small town feel with big cities amenities all around. Code Enforcement on Longboat Key checked all those boxes for me and my family.
What role do you play as code enforcement during sea turtle nesting season?
The Code Enforcement Division handles every aspect of sea turtle protection during nesting season. We write the ordinance, present ordinance changes to the Town Commission, educate the public on the ordinance, inspect properties for compliance, work toward voluntary compliance with property owners, issue citations, and even take property owners to a Special Magistrate Hearing. A lot of our work happens outside of sea turtle nesting season. Citations and Magistrate Hearings are always a tool for enforcement, but don’t always produce the best long-term results. If we can properly educate and prepare the community prior to the nesting season, then our violations tend to decrease. Our goal is to educate the community on why the rules exist, and work with violators to gain full compliance for the safety of sea turtles.
As you often say, you are a department of one. How do you manage all of the responsibilities of an entire department, especially during the height of nesting season?
Time management and community involvement are crucial in this position no matter the size of the department. However, I am not alone during the nesting season. Longboat Key Turtle Watch has a wonderful team of volunteers assisting our local FWC permit holder, Mote Marine Laboratory, with the daily morning monitoring of turtle nests. These volunteers provide outstanding communication about potential lighting and obstruction violations they observe. I also receive every FWC Marine Turtle Disorientation Report within 24 hours. All this information helps me focus my time in the needed hot spots.
What was the impetus for Longboat Key’s ordinance update and what was the process like?
There were a number of driving factors which caused the Town to update our Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance, with the biggest factor being our number of disorientations. It pains me to say that our Town has had the second highest number of disorientations in the entire state for years. We are not proud of this, and we are striving to change it. Other factors included the advancements in sea turtles research, the advancements in lighting technology, our increasing population, and other minor verbiage changes long overdue. The process was not as simple as making a couple of changes and applying the ceremonial rubber stamp. Each word in the ordinance can potentially affect sea turtles, our citizens, and other community stakeholders. We were calculated in our changes to ensure it was in everyone’s best interest. We had long discussions with our residents, our businesses, attorneys, lighting experts, window manufactures, tinting engineers, and our partners in sea turtle protection, including the Sea Turtle Conservancy. We wanted to get the entire community involved in creating an effective ordinance. It was an eight-month process, and we are proud of our final product.
How do you approach enforcing Longboat Key’s ordinance?
Voluntary compliance is the goal for every code enforcement officer. Once a violation is observed, we attempt to make an in-person or over-the-phone meeting. Many property owners in violation don’t know they are violating an ordinance. We want to educate them on the ordinance, how they are violating it, and how to come into compliance. This method also provides a much quicker compliance rate then using snail mail. The type of violation (i.e. lighting, furniture left on the beach, etc.) will determine our enforcement options. Items left on the beach can be tagged for removal or impounded. Citations can be written for each day a violation exists. A Notice of Code Violation letter may be mailed to the property owner which starts a legal process toward a Special Magistrate Hearing. A Magistrate can then access fines in the form of liens. We have used all methods to enforce our Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance.
What has been your most challenging sea turtle lighting case or violation that you’ve handled?
We have a repeat offender who continues to have lighting violations. The property is a short-term rental, owned by an out-of-state company. Zero communication from the company. We observe a violation, inform the renters about the ordinance, and then a week later a new renter arrives. We then observe another violation, inform the new renter about the ordinance, and you get the picture. We have issued numerous citations and have an active lien on the property. Not all violations have a success story. The other 99% of my interactions have positive, successful endings.
What do you think is the best part of your job?
The community. Community services was my specialty during my time in law enforcement. It is what I enjoy most – the interaction with everyone. No one wants to see the Code Enforcement Officer at their door or receive a violation in the mail. I understand my job from their perspective. I try to provide each person with some education, a smile, and some light humor.
Tell me about a meaningful sea turtle experience you’ve had.
Watching a massive sea turtle lay eggs or hatchlings exploding out of the nest like a bag of Jiffy Pop is just really cool to see. I am fortunate to see these things happen during nighttime inspections. I was able to rescue a couple of hatchlings trapped in the vegetation roots and being eaten by ants. The hatchlings were rehabilitated by Mote Marine Laboratory and released. It puts into perspective the “why” for me and my job responsibilities.
What advice do you have for code enforcement officers in coastal counties who want to implement lighting ordinance updates?
Your abilities as a Code Enforcement Officer are only as good as your ordinance is enforceable. Your ordinance needs to stay current with sea turtle research, lighting technology, and recommendations by our partners at the state level. The Model Lighting Ordinance was released as Florida Administrative Code 62B-55 on December 17, 2020. Does your ordinance reflect their recommendations? If not, then it’s time to update your ordinance. We are a brotherhood and sisterhood in the fight together. I’ve assisted other jurisdictions with updating their ordinances. Let me be a resource for you. My email is email@example.com.
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Join STC on an exclusive, guided journey to experience the warmth of tropical beaches and rainforests in Costa Rica while we explore the wonders of sea turtles. During this short and immersive trip we will spend a few nights working hands-on with green turtles in Tortuguero – nesting site of the largest green turtle colony in the Atlantic and the literal birthplace of sea turtle conservation. You will be guided by world-renowned sea turtle biologist and STC Scientific Director, Dr. Roldán Valverde, a Costa Rican native, who will give presentations on sea turtle research and conservation, as well as rainforest ecology, biodiversity and local “Tico” culture.
This trip will include a visit to the Arenal volcano, where you will enjoy natural hot springs and other natural attractions around this active volcano region. Through an optional trip add-on (space is limited), you have a unique opportunity to visit the site where a magnificent wonder of nature occurs – Ostional on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Ostional is home to the second largest mass arrival (arribada) of olive ridley sea turtles in the world. While we can’t guarantee the ability to actually witness an arribada, we are hoping the stars will align during this trip. Click here to see more details and register for the trip through our travel partner, Holbrook Travel.
Assist STC researchers with turtle nest monitoring, tagging, and tracking during evening turtle patrols on the beaches of Tortuguero.
Explore Tortuguero National Park by boat and on foot to seek out wildlife like monkeys, sloths, caimans, and more than 350 bird species.
Hike in Arenal Volcano National Park to learn about the geology of the area, and then visit Arenal Hanging Bridges for a treetop view of the rainforest canopy and its flora and fauna.
Enjoy a relaxing soak in the geothermal hot springs near Arenal Volcano.
Written by Janet Nupp Hochella, long-time STC member and BIC volunteer. The 30 plus years of efforts on behalf of turtles earned Janet the prestigious Ed Drane Award for Volunteerism at the 2017 International Sea Turtle Society Symposium. Janet now resides in Melbourne, Florida where she can continue to pursue her passion – sea turtles!
From the first year that Guided Sea Turtle Walks were conducted at the Barrier Island Center, I have navigated the dark sandy beach at Bonsteel Park in hopes of finding a nesting loggerhead sea turtle for the guests, young and old, who have assembled from all parts of the state or the country. As a sea turtle walk scout, I never tire from the excitement of meeting new people. But more gratifying is finding a nesting loggerhead sea turtle to show the guests, most who have never seen a sea turtle in the wild, and to share in the guests’ enthusiasm and appreciation of this special reptile.
Guided Sea Turtle Walks offer a unique educational and outreach opportunity for participants. But sometimes, there is an added bonus. The loggerhead sea turtle that the Friday night scouting crew found on their first walk night of the 2021 season on June 4th was a very special sea turtle!
Turtle Scouts Adam Steinfeld, Jenna Coven, Janet Hochella, Scott Beazley, and Branden Garrett
Early into the scouting, while the guests were listening to the educational slide presentation, Turtle South came upon a nesting loggerhead. Scott Beazley and Brandon Garrett radioed to Turtle North, Jenna Coven and me, that they had a small loggerhead digging her egg chamber which would be a good candidate to show the guests. The turtle was not far south of the Bonsteel ramp where the guests access the beach. The Lead, Cindy Pless, was notified and the guests were gathered to get to the beach and to the turtle in time to see the turtle dropping eggs into her egg chamber. This was a small turtle and she was moving right along, but the guests got there in time to see the egg laying process. Always interested in determining whether an observed turtle might have been encountered by the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group and under the FWC permit guidelines, I requested that we check, after the turtle finished camouflaging her nest, for tags – metal tags on one of the scutes of the inner edge of both the left and the right flippers, and most importantly, for a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag which could be located in any one of the four flippers. Most importantly because the sea turtle can “lose” the metal tags, but the internal tag is usually permanent and can be read with a PIT tag scanner.
Without the use of any light, Scott and I checked for the metal tags. There was none on the left front flipper…but, bingo, there was a flipper tag on the right front flipper! Because I also volunteer with the UCF MTRG and am permitted to check for tags, I grabbed my PIT tag scanner and immediately got a reading from the right front flipper. Finding a PIT tag is always exciting as it reveals there is a history with the turtle. This PIT tag was not in a series that I recognized so finding out the source of the PIT tag would be very intriguing and important. With only the use of the red headlamp to read the flipper tag and the PIT tag, I asked one of the scouts to copy the number to a clipboard that the Lead carries so that I could investigate the source of the tag numbers.
Upon checking with the University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group who monitor and conduct sea turtle research on the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, I was informed that this turtle most definitely had a history. Not only was the turtle seen on the Archie Carr National Refuge by the UCF researchers almost 18 years prior, she was originally encountered by a NOAA group in Florida Bay 21 years ago. I would need to contact Barbara Schroeder, National Sea Turtle Coordinator of NOAA-NMFS, for the particulars.
After several attempts through various channels, I was able to connect with Barbara Schroeder. I was thrilled to learn that the turtle we encountered was one that Barbara Schroeder herself has researched and documented over many years as part of the FFWCC/NOAA Florida Bay Sea Turtle Project.
(Photos courtesy of Barbara Schroeder, FWC/NOAA Sea Turtle Bay Project)
This small loggerhead has quite a backstory! Barbara Schroeder writes in an email “this turtle was first captured by us in Florida Bay in 2000, she was an adult then (you can see her length has not changed). In March 2013 we satellite tagged this turtle after ultrasound revealed she was preparing to breed that summer and she was seen nesting at ACNWR in June 2013 and of course her satellite tag data showed us the same. We named her “Shiver” as it was very cold in March 2013 when we captured her.” Summary records that Barbara Schroeder sent along in the email show that the turtle has been recorded as seen nesting on the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, 2018, and now in 2021.
Shiver is a special turtle study with her history of being recaptured multiple times in Florida Bay and on the Archie Carr Refuge in multiple years. Shiver gained celebrity status with her own write up in Blair E. Witherington’s book Our Sea Turtles published by Pineapple Press in 2015. Dr. Witherington used Shiver’s data, provided by the FFWCC/NOAA Florida Bay Sea Turtle Project, to exemplify the reproductive migrations of sea turtles. In his book on page 123, Witherington writes “To track her movements over her upcoming nesting season, the researchers attached a satellite transmitter to Shiver’s carapace. Her broadcasts indicated that she left Florida Bay to enter the Atlantic in mid-April and moved along the Florida coast to the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, covering the roughly 250 miles (400 km) trip in about two weeks. Shiver lingered off the refuge and deposited several clutches over an 11-week period. Not long after her last nest, Shiver set off for home, nearly reaching her home waters of Florida Bay after a three-week swim.” The photo to to the right, taken from the book, shows a photo of Shiver and her migratory path in 2013.
As sea turtles generally nest every two years, Shiver probably won’t be encountered on her nesting beach this year. Finding her again in the 2023 Sea Turtle Nesting Season would truly be a stroke of luck with the hundreds of loggerheads that nest multiple times every season on the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. But the Sea Turtle Conservancy Barrier Island Center Sea Turtle Scouts will be out there again this 2022 season. Who knows what sea turtle we will encounter on our guided sea turtle walk night. All of the sea turtles are special! Like Shiver!
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is hoping all of its supporters will participate in this year’s Giving Tuesday Campaign, which seeks to raise funds to support a health assessment of Bermuda’s sea turtles. Though not as well-known as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, which occurs the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 30 this year), is one day when everyone can join together to make a huge difference.
For Giving Tuesday last year, STC supporters raised more than $50,000 for STC’s In-water Research Project in the Gulf of Mexico. STC has set its sights even higher this year, and we are confident we can reach our goal of $70,000 for Bermuda’s sea turtles thanks to generous pledges from STC’s Board of Directors to match every dollar donated up to $35,000!
Through the Bermuda Turtle Project (BTP), for over 50 years Sea Turtle Conservancy and its partners in Bermuda have been monitoring juvenile sea turtles in their marine environment to track how these animals are doing at a critical life stage. The BTP is unique because it allows for the study of sea turtles in their developmental habitat – a place where young sea turtles from around the Atlantic and Caribbean congregate to grow up.
Over the last several years, the BTP has observed an ecological calamity unfolding in Bermuda that has resulted in a massive die-off of seagrasses—the main food source for juvenile green turtles. As a result, sea turtles are disappearing from Bermuda at an alarming pace, and many of those remaining appear to be in very poor health. Expanded research and conservation efforts are needed urgently to fully understand and respond to the complicated factors at work. The ecological changes in Bermuda almost certainly can be traced to water quality degradation associated with nutrient runoff from the island, combined with rising ocean temperatures and disturbance by human activities.
Through this year’s Giving Tuesday campaign, STC is raising funding to support a health assessment of Bermuda’s sea turtles, which will include a comparison with healthy turtle populations in Florida. This baseline information will allow us to better understand how the seagrass die-off is impacting Bermuda’s turtles so we can best address this problem in Bermuda. STC also needs funding to conduct vessel-based surveys around Bermuda to identify new areas where the turtles may be congregating in search of suitable food sources.
Finally, STC will use funding from Giving Tuesday to expand public awareness about the ways human activities—even in a place as remote and seemingly pristine as Bermuda—can threaten sea turtles and the entire marine ecosystem. The calamity unfolding in Bermuda has STC’s full attention, and we need our supporters to contribute this Giving Tuesday.
Help support STC’s Bermuda Turtle Project by donating to the cause in one of three ways:
1. Online at conserveturtles.org/GivingTuesday or facebook.com/conserveturtles
2. Call 352-373-6441 with your credit card info
3. Mail a check with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line. All checks received with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line will count towards the campaign, even if received after November 30. Can we count you in for Giving Tuesday?
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Introducing the winning photos from our 2022 Sea Turtle Calendar Contest! Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest. It gets harder every year to narrow down hundreds of beautiful images to only 13 photos! Calendars will be for sale in our online gift shop in later November or early December. We will post the link once they’re live!
COVER PHOTO – STEFANIE PLEIN
JANUARY – DIRK PETERSON
FEBRUARY – DANNY BAKER
MARCH – KARLA MORALES
APRIL – HECTOR CHENGE
MAY – KARLA G. BARRIENTOS-MUNOS
JUNE – CLAY COLEMAN
JULY – SHELLEY MICHEL
AUGUST – CHANTAL KOHL
SEPTEMBER – SIMON WAITLAND
OCTOBER – BARBARA SELLES RIOS
NOVEMBER – EVAN COOPER
DECEMBER – JAYMIE RENEKER
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Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is proud to announce another top rating from Charity Navigator, the leading evaluator of non-profit groups in the United States. STC received 4 out of 4 stars for the 14th year, indicating that our organization adheres to good governance and other practices that minimize the chance of unethical activities and consistently executes our mission in a fiscally responsible way.
“The Board and staff of Sea Turtle Conservancy take great pride in our consistent high ratings from Charity Navigator,” said David Godfrey, STC Executive Director, “and it gives our donors confidence that their contributions are being managed wisely to the maximum benefit of sea turtles.”
According to Charity Navigator, a 4 star rating is an ‘exceptional’ designation, and differentiates Sea Turtle Conservancy from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust. STC spends almost 90 cents of every dollar donated directly on research, conservation and education programs. STC’s commitment to transparency, good governance and fiscal responsibility ensures that donations are used in an efficient manner to support conservation programs.
“We are proud to announce Sea Turtle Conservancy has earned our fifth consecutive 4-star rating,” says Michael Thatcher, Charity Navigator CEO. “This is our highest possible rating and indicates that your organization adheres to sector best practices and executes its mission in a financially efficient way. Attaining a 4-star rating verifies that Sea Turtle Conservancy exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in your area of work. Only 18% of the charities we evaluate have received at least 5 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Sea Turtle Conservancy outperforms most other charities in America. This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets Sea Turtle Conservancy apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness.”
Florida’s globally-important sea turtle populations face myriad anthropogenic threats, with coastal armoring and artificial lighting being among the most urgent. During the 2021 Florida Legislative Session held in March and April, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) advocated against two bills that would have greatly worsened both of these threats.
One of the bills (HB 1133 and SB 1504 – Coastal Construction and Preservation) sought to weaken the regulation of coastal armoring, which would have facilitated a rapid expansion of sea wall construction along important sea turtle nesting beaches in Florida. Seawalls block turtles from reaching the upper portion of the beach, causing them to nest in less-than-optimal nesting areas lower on the beach where their nests are more susceptible to waves and inundation.
In addition, studies have shown that fewer turtles emerge onto beaches with seawalls than onto adjacent, non-walled, natural beaches. Sea walls also disrupt natural beach dynamics and increase the rate of erosion down the beach. This can create a ‘domino effect’ that necessitates more and more seawalls, destroying sea turtle and shorebird nesting habitat.
Introduced by Representative Tom Leek and Senator Tom Wright, whose districts include parts of Volusia and Brevard Counties, the bill would have eliminated any consideration of whether upland structures are actually vulnerable to erosion before qualifying for a sea wall. If a beachfront property owner requested a permit to build a sea wall (or sought a permit for a wall already installed illegally), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) would be forced by law to grant the permit. This process would result in no consideration of impacts to the beach, neighbors, other natural alternatives or federally protected sea turtles.
After STC learned of the bill, Executive Director David Godfrey and Holly Parker-Curry with Surfrider Foundation met with the primary bill sponsor. As is often the case with short-sighted legislation like this, the bill was designed to appease a particular group of local constituents whose request for a sea wall permit was denied because their homes are not actually vulnerable or eligible for sea walls. In attempting to resolve a narrow local issue, the sponsors were willing to roll back protection for sea turtles and coastal habitat throughout Florida.
Following vocal opposition by STC and our colleagues, both the House and Senate versions of the bill died in their first committees. However, this issue is likely to come back during future legislative sessions, as beachfront property owners continue to face the impacts of sea level rise and coastal erosion in Florida. STC will continue to advocate for natural solutions to this worsening problem, including the use of living shorelines, beach nourishment, managed retreat from heavily eroding beaches and stricter policies on where people can build on the coastline.
Another bill sought to strip local governments of their ability to regulate certain building design elements on private homes. This developer-backed legislation was not intended to directly impact sea turtles, but the wording was so vague that it would have inadvertently eliminated the ability of coastal counties and municipalities to enforce sea turtle lighting regulations. Language in the bill would have prevented local governments from regulating any “exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation” on single- and two-family homes in Florida. The bill, S.B. 284 and H.B. 55 – Building Design, was introduced by Senator Keith Perry and Representative Toby Overdorf. Since the exterior lighting used on homes would fall under definitions contained in the bill, if passed the legislation would have undermined all local sea turtle protection ordinances that prohibit unshielded white lights during sea turtle nesting season, which could result in an increase in sea turtle disorientations statewide.
After alerting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Legislative Affairs office about the potential impacts of the bill, STC drafted an amendment that, if added to the legislation, would ensure sea turtle protection ordinances remained intact. Despite numerous attempts to get the bill’s sponsors to acknowledge the unintended glitch and support our amendment, this approach was getting us nowhere. Eventually, STC contacted Senate Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield, whose district includes the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Brevard and Indian River Counties. Senator Mayfield took the issue very seriously, knowing how important sea turtles are to her constituents.
With her leadership, STC’s amendment was eventually added to version of the bill that eventually passed. STC is appreciative of all of our partners at FWC, the Surfrider Foundation, Florida Conservation Voters and within the Legislature who moved this amendment forward. We are particularly grateful to Sen. Mayfield for her leadership on this matter.
Although STC’s work on these two bills resulted in good outcomes for sea turtles in 2021, another round of bad bills for sea turtles is likely to arise next year. If a proposal is particularly damaging to sea turtles, STC will alert its members and followers and encourage them to contact representatives in the Legislature. We have defeated harmful proposals together in the past, and we are confident that we will have the same success in the future.
Make sure you subscribe to our e-newsletter and/or follow us on social media @conserveturtles to receive Action Alerts and other legislative updates. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to sign up now!
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Fahlo, previously branded as Wildlife Collections, is the exclusive turtle tracking jewelry partner of the Sea Turtle Conservancy and donates 10% of net profits from every turtle bracelet sold to STC. Thanks to our partnership, Wildlife Collections has donated almost $300,000 towards our sea turtle conservation programs!
Wildlife Collections was created in 2018 by two childhood best friends, Daniel Gunter and Carter Forbes. They wanted a way to get more people involved in saving wildlife, so they came up with the idea of their popular animal tracking bracelets. Each bracelet comes with a card that gives customers the name, picture, and backstory on their animal, along with a QR code that allows them pull up a tracking map on their phone or computer, showing where their animal is in the world! 10% of net profits of each bracelet are donated to the organization associated with the animal on the bracelet. “By combining a tangible bracelet and interactive tracking experience, our goal is to educate customers about wildlife and excite them about conservation,” said Forbes.
Helping raise money and awareness for all endangered wildlife species is the overall mission at Wildlife Collections. Along with sea turtles, Wildlife Collections also supports elephants and polar bears through the sale of their tracking jewelry. “Since plastic pollution in the ocean is at an ever-increasing rate, we felt that raising awareness for the rapid decreasing population of sea turtles was a great place to start,” said Gunter. “With some in-depth research of trying to figure out what organization would have the biggest impact on saving sea turtles, we set our sights on the Sea Turtle Conservancy as the clear choice to partner with!”
The partnership between STC and Wildlife Collections continues to grow each year! In 2020, Wildlife Collections adopted and named two satellite-tracked turtles as part of STC’s Tour de Turtles program. Robin, an endangered green turtle, and Leia, a loggerhead turtle, were both equipped with satellite transmitters after nesting in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in July 2020. This year, Wildlife Collections is once again adopting and naming two more turtles! Their first turtle is named Vesper, an endangered leatherback turtle who nested on Jupiter Island, FL in May 2021. Their second turtle is a loggerhead that will be tagged and released from the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in July 2021.
“The STC has been an amazing organization to work with. We love getting updates from their team about new turtles that have been rescued or new conservation efforts that are going on,” says Gunter. Our mission is to continue to spread the word about endangered species and encourage people to lean towards wildlife conservation. Our goals are to expand that mission to more people every year and continuously make a larger impact in saving wildlife!”
**UPDATE 4/30/21 – Hope was encountered nesting again but unfortunately her new transmitter was no longer attached. It seems the attachment method failed or the transmitter came off while Hope was mating. However, we remain HOPEFUL that we will encounter Hope yet again and get one last try at satellite tracking her long-term. The scientific data she could provide would truly be invaluable!**
After a 17,000 km round trip migration up to the coast of New Jersey and down towards the Caribbean, leatherback turtle “Hope” returned to Jupiter Island, FL to nest just 1.5 km from her previous nest, which she laid in May 2020. Leatherback turtles typically nest every 2-3 years, and it’s very rare for one to nest in consecutive years. This is the first time researchers have had the chance to track a leatherback turtle that’s nested consecutive years!
Hope was equipped with a satellite transmitter last May by researchers from the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) and Florida Leatherbacks, Inc. as part of STC’s annual Tour de Turtles “migration marathon” education program. The satellite transmitter allows the researchers and the public to track Hope’s location online and follow her migration. Hope was sponsored and named by Turtle & Hughes, Inc., a fourth generation family-owned business and one of the nation’s largest electrical and industrial distributors.
Hope’s original migration map which shows the location she stopped transmitting.
“Hope provides an incredible opportunity to track the same leatherback a second time from a nesting beach,” said Dr. Daniel Evans, STC Research Biologist. “She was an interesting turtle to follow in 2020, so we are excited and curious to see whether or not she follows her previous path.”
After transmitting for nearly nine months, Hope’s location stopped updating while she was located about 250 miles north of Puerto Rico. This can happen for a number of reasons—the tracking device may be damaged, have fallen off completely, or could be covered in biofouling which prevents it from sending a signal. Hope’s fans stood by hoping to see her signal come back online one day. Researchers were also hopeful she would start transmitting again, as her track indicated she may be returning to Florida, which would be an extremely unique event.
With no signal from Hope for almost two months, researchers from Florida Leatherbacks, Inc. were surprised when they came across a familiar turtle during their nightly track survey on March 29. It was Hope! It turns out, her satellite transmitter had fallen off, but they were able to identify her by her metal flipper tags and a PIT tag, or microchip. They were able to re-apply a satellite transmitter to continue tracking her, a very rare opportunity.
Hope the leatherback returns to the ocean after nesting. Photo credit Chris Johnson, Florida Leatherbacks
“We were incredibly excited and honestly quite shocked when the team found her again this year,” said Kelly Martin of Florida Leatherbacks Inc.” “We were even more thrilled that we had another satellite transmitter ready to go. This is the first time we have been able to track an endangered leatherback that has nested two years in a row and provides a very unique opportunity to look at behaviors that aren’t usually easy to track.”
As of Monday April 5, Hope is located about 30km east of the Ft. Pierce inlet in 128ft deep water. Since tagging last May, she has traveled more than 18,000 kilometers. The public can track Hope online at www.trackturtles.com/hope
**UPDATE 4/30/21 – Hope was encountered nesting again but unfortunately her new transmitter was no longer attached. It seems the attachment method failed or the transmitter came off while Hope was mating. However, we remain HOPEFUL that we will encounter Hope yet again and get one last try at satellite tracking her long-term. The scientific data she could provide would truly be invaluable!**
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The Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP), funded by the sale of Florida’s “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, recently awarded $415,463.82 to 26 different projects benefiting Florida sea turtles as part of the 2021-2022 grant funding cycle. Since it’s inception, the Sea Turtle License Plate Grants Program has awarded more than $6.5 million to conservation projects.
The sea turtle plate is the number three overall selling specialty tag in Florida, and the number one environmental specialty plate. By purchasing the sea turtle specialty license plate, Floridians are voluntarily funding important programs to save endangered sea turtles and their habitats.
To learn more about the Sea Turtle Grants Program and the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, please visit www.helpingseaturtles.org.
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Florida’s sandy beaches are unlike any place in the world. More than 100 million people visit them each year, making them the main economic driver for our state. They provide coastal recreation, bring aesthetic beauty and infuse billions of dollars into our economy each year. Florida’s sandy beaches are part of our state’s identity and our economic health.
At the same time, Florida’s beaches provide the most important nesting habitat for loggerhead sea turtles in the world. For those of us lucky enough to have witnessed a sea turtle crawling out of the sea at night to lay her eggs, or to have seen a nest of tiny hatchlings emerge from their nest and instinctively charge toward the water, you know how special Florida is for threatened and endangered sea turtles. All sea turtle species that nest in Florida are protected by both State and Federal law. These laws also protect their nesting habitat, meaning it is unlawful for things like sea wall construction to destroy this habitat.
A bill introduced recently in the Florida House and Senate (H.B. 1133 and S.B. 1504) seeks to deregulate coastal armoring, allowing for the rampant proliferation of sea wall construction around the coastline of Florida. No sandy beach would be safe. If approved, this bill would convert Florida’s coastline to concrete to protect the thin ribbon of pricey properties built on the beachfront – all while risking Florida’s economy; cutting off beach access for Floridians and tourists; and decimating the most important habitat for loggerhead turtles in the world.
For decades, bipartisan leaders of Florida have recognized the value of our sandy beaches. Sea walls and other forms of “hard armoring” to protecting upland property from erosion have been viewed as a last resort option because of how much is sacrificed once you erect a wall on the beach. Once installed, sea walls disrupt the natural beach dynamics and rapidly increase the rate of erosion down the beach—creating a “domino effect” that necessitates more and more sea walls—destroying sea turtle and shorebird nesting habitat, cutting off public access and eliminating the aesthetic, recreational and economic value of the coast for everyone.
The bills filed by Representative Tom Leek and Senator Tom Wright, whose districts include parts of Volusia and Brevard Counties, represent a complete abandonment of the thoughtful management of Florida’s natural, sandy beaches. They are a major threat to Florida’s wildlife and Florida’s economy, and they should be withdrawn from consideration.
What these bills would do is eliminate any real consideration of whether upland structures are actually vulnerable to erosion before qualifying for a sea wall. If a beachfront property owner requests a permit to build a sea wall (or seeks a permit for a wall already installed illegally), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would be forced by law to grant the permit. No consideration of impacts to the beach, no consideration of impacts to neighbors, no consideration of other alternatives and certainly no consideration of federally protected sea turtles.
We need your help to stop this horrible legislation from moving forward. Please contact bill sponsors Representative Tom Leek and Senator Tom Wright and tell them to remove this bill from consideration in order to protect Florida’s wildlife and way of life.
Senator Tom Wright
District Office: (386) 304-7630
Satellite Office: (386) 304-7630
Tallahassee Office: (850) 487-5014
Representative Tom Leek
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5025
District Office: (386) 238-4865
2021 Sea Turtle Monitoring – Panama Bastimentos Island National Marine Park
Project description: Conservation and monitoring of nesting hawksbills and their nests.
Location: Bocas del Toro Province, Panama, Bastimentos Island National Marine Park (BINMP): Zapatilla Cays and Playa Larga
Project Dates: 27 April – 2 November 2021.
Due to training requirements and logistical challenges, all RA’s must commit to a minimum two-month stay. Special consideration for RA’s who can start as early as 27 April or who are able to stay until 2 November.
Applications will be accepted until all positions are filled.
Since 2003, Anne and Peter Meylan have worked in partnership with the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) to monitor important Panamanian sea turtle nesting beaches in Bocas del Toro Province and the Comarca Ngäbe Buglé, from the Changuinola River (border with Costa Rica) to the Chiriquí River. Four sea turtle species are found in the waters of Bocas del Toro and the Comarca; Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Green (Chelonia mydas) and Loggerhead (Caretta caretta). Within this region, we have standardized monitoring, research and protection efforts in collaboration with STC and members of local communities close to the nesting beaches. This program has had very positive results. More than 1000 hawksbill nests were recorded in the BINMP in each of the last two nesting seasons. In the last 15 years, there has been a reduction in the illegal killing of turtles on the majority of nesting beaches in the area, and an increasing nesting trend for Hawksbill turtles. Despite these advances, numerous threats remain for the sea turtles within and adjacent to BINMP, including increasing pressure on coastal and marine habitats through unregulated tourism development and the continued hunting of turtles for personal consumption and commercial purposes both on the beach and within park waters.
Project description: Conservation and monitoring of critically endangered green turtles Location: STC Field Station, Tortuguero, Costa Rica Dates:
Group 1: June 7 – August 24, 2021
Group 2: August 12 – November 1, 2021 Application Deadline: March 12, 2021
Research and monitoring of sea turtles in Tortuguero, Costa Rica was initiated in the 1950´s by legendary sea turtle researcher Dr Archie Carr. Dr Carr continued his work in Tortuguero until his passing away in 1987 and each year from June – November Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) conducts the Green Turtle Program, continuing the work started by Dr Carr. STC works closely with Costa Rican authorities, the Tortuguero community and other sea turtle conservation organizations in the country. Information collected during the annual Green Turtle Program plays a key role in developing effective management strategies for sea turtles in the area.
Location: Bocas del Toro Province and Comarca Näbe Buglé, Panama Dates: June 29– September 17, 2021 Application Deadline: March 5, 2021
Since 2003, STC (Sea Turtle Conservancy) has worked at important Panamanian sea turtle nesting beaches in the Bocas del Toro Province and the Comarca Ngäbe Buglé, from the Changuinola river to the Chiriquí river. Four sea turtle species are found in the waters of Bocas del Toro and the Comarca; Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Green (Chelonia mydas) and Loggerhead (Caretta caretta). Within this region STC has standardized monitoring, research and protection efforts in collaboration with members of communities close to the nesting beaches. In addition, education and awareness programs have been developed to highlight the importance of protecting and conserving sea turtles and other natural resources. This program has had very positive results. In the last 12 years there has been a reduction in the illegal killing of turtles on the majority of nesting beaches in the area, and an increasing nesting trend for both Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles. Despite these advances, numerous threats remain for the region’s sea turtles, including predation of nests by domestic dogs, increasing pressure on coastal and marine habitats through unregulated tourism development, and the continued hunting of turtles for personal consumption and commercial purposes.
A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE WITHIN THE STATE. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE. 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352), www.FloridaConsumerHelp.com