LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – As sea turtle nesting season begins along Florida’s coastline, the Walt Disney World Resort is joining forces with seven other prominent conservation organizations to get beachside residents involved in the mission to save sea turtles.
The Program is called NESTS – Neighbors Ensuring Sea Turtle Survival, and it has been developed through the support of Walt Disney World, The Ocean Conservancy, Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Friends of the Carr Refuge, the Brevard Zoo, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society and Sebastian Inlet State Park.
Of the five species of sea turtles that nest along Florida’s shoreline, four species, Hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, Green and Leatherback, are endangered and one species, Loggerhead, is threatened. During the summer months, the Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge, located near Vero Beach, and neighboring beaches host the largest number of nesting sea turtles than anywhere else in the United States.
“The goal of this Program is to work with the people who essentially have sea turtles nesting in their own back yards,” said Dr. Anne Savage, conservation biologist at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. “If everyone works together, homeowners associations and individual homeowners are a vast force along our beaches that can make a significant difference in the quality of our beaches for sea turtle nesting.”
Dan Evans of the Gainesville-based Caribbean Conservation Corporation added, “We have come up with a very innovative approach to increase community stewardship of important nesting beaches.”
According to Jessica Koelsch of the Ocean Conservancy, “The best part of the Program is that it’s fun and easy for people to join NESTS.” The Program helps residents become more familiar with sea turtles and some of the challenges they are facing through three levels of certification: Partner, Guardian and Champion. At the Partner level, the activities are geared toward sharing information, becoming more informed and making the right choices to assist nesting turtles and hatchlings. Residents receive a list of tasks to choose from, and all they have to do is complete most of them to become a NESTS partner. Some of those tasks include turning off lights that shine on the beach, learning more about sea turtles from a resident expert and reducing the amount of litter found on our beaches. Once residents show they are NESTS partners, they receive a decal and certificate to show their commitment.
At the Guardian and Champion levels, there are opportunities for people to demonstrate their support for sea turtle conservation and receive additional recognition.
The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival. For more information, visit the STC website atwww.conserveturtles.org or call (800) 678-7853.