Recovered Oil Fund Helps Florida’s Sea Turtles

Issue 1, 2011 Article:

* Recovered Oil Fund Helps Florida’s Sea Turtles
* How Sustainable is Sustainable Seafood?

Next Issue
Previous Issue

Recovered Oil Fund Helps Florida’s Sea Turtles

By David Godfrey

In 2010, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) received funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife to mitigate for the impacts to marine turtles resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The funding was made possible by the sale of oil captured from the Deepwater Horizon well and earmarked for projects to aid the recovery of all wildlife impacted by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Across Florida, STC used the funds to improve the survival outlook for sea turtles. This included increasing capacity at rehabilitation facilities and correcting beachfront lighting problems. In addition, STC produced educational materials to promote awareness in coastal communities about the role they can play in sea turtle conservation.

During the initial phase, funding was used to upgrade medical equipment at 12 of the 14 marine wildlife rehabilitation facilities across Florida. This included upgrades such as new digital x-ray and blood analysis equipment that helped veterinary staff immediately improve treatment of sea turtles. The money was also used for the installation of new isolation tanks and water systems to increase efficiency and capacity to care for sick and injured turtles. The isolation tanks are important in preventing the spread of fibropapillomatosis, a viral disease that causes debilitating tumors, between sea turtles.

The second phase involved a proactive approach to reducing threats to sea turtles on nesting beaches. STC focused funds toward lighting projects, which have long-term, measurable benefits for all Florida sea turtles. The funds were used to purchase and install turtle-friendly light fixtures on nesting beaches with a history of sea turtle disorientations caused by light pollution, a significant problem for nesting sea turtles and hatchlings. Females may avoid nesting on beaches with bright artificial light glow and hatchlings often become disoriented after emerging from their nests. Baby turtles may wander aimlessly or mistakenly head inland towards bright artificial light instead of naturally heading to the surf guided by the slope of the beach, the moonlight’s reflection and other cues.

“The lighting project is a wonderful contribution to the protection of sea turtles during a critical period of their life cycle,” said Jennifer Winters, Volusia County Sea Turtle HCP Manager. “This is a rare opportunity to provide a direct benefit to protecting sea turtles.”

STC worked with local officials, sea turtle monitors and property owners to replace problem lights at more than 40 private, multi-family and commercial properties across Florida. As a result of the project, STC estimates that light pollution decreased by nearly 100% at each property, with an average increase of 600 feet of darkened beach at each site. During the 2011 nesting season, STC will monitor these locations to determine the effectiveness of the lighting project on nesting and hatching success.

“Through this project, we have retrofitted approximately 25% of the properties with lighting issues,” said Jill Kunesh, of St. Pete Beach Sea Turtles. “Taking these steps is absolutely imperative for increasing the chances of sea turtle population recovery in our area.”

During the last phase, STC created outreach materials to educate coastal communities about the threats of lighting pollution and corrective measures that can be taken. STC also produced educational material on the problem of raccoon predation, which destroys thousands of sea turtle eggs each year, and how to avoid attracting raccoons to the nesting beach. Using funds from the Recovered Oil Fund, combined with a result-driven approach to sea turtle conservation, STC is working toward successfully mitigating the devastating impacts of the oil spill on these endangered species.