Many green turtle hatchlings begin life by emerging from nests on Tortuguero beach. They enter the sea, and, after swimming as long as 24 hours, reach the relative safety of floating sargassum seaweed mats, where they find food and refuge. If lucky enough to dodge their many predators, as well as a host of human threats in the marine environment, they will thrive and grow in the drifting mats for several years before moving into coastal sea grass and reef habitats. These nearshore habitats occur throughout the Caribbean, but research is showing that green turtles are particularly attracted to Florida’s east coast. In fact, genetic studies show that a significant proportion of juvenile green turtles found foraging along the east coast of Florida originate from the Tortuguero nesting beach. If the little turtles’ luck continues, they survive to reach maturity some 20 to 50 years after hatching and return as adults to Tortuguero to mate and nest on the same beach where they were once born.
During the 2002 green turtle nesting season in Tortuguero, the link between Florida’s coastal habitats and the Tortuguero nesting beach was further confirmed by an exciting tag return. On September 30th, 2002, CCC research assistants Cory Matthews (Canada), Dagnia Nolasco (Peru) and Ross Towers (UK) encountered a green turtle attempting to nest. Upon inspecting the turtle for tags, the team discovered a tag bearing number NNY956. Subsequent investigation showed that the turtle was originally tagged on July 14, 1986, about 8 km north of Port Everglades Inlet in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by researcher Robert Wershoven. When it was originally tagged, the turtle was a juvenile measuring only 46 cm; when spotted in Tortuguero more than 16 years later, it had grown to an impressive size of 103.9 cm.
Unfortunately, the nearshore reef habitat in Florida where the turtle was captured and tagged in 1986 may be significantly impacted by a planned beach renourishment project. Beach building projects such as these, which involve dredging sand from offshore and pumping it onto the beach, impact near-shore habitats, as well as the green turtles that find food and shelter there. In particular, the artificially wide, man-made beaches bury large sections of nearshore reef and hardbottom habitats used by sea turtles and many other forms of marine life. The projects can also increase turbidity in the water, which affects the reef algae – the primary food source for juvenile green turtles.
Upon hearing the interesting news about this tag recovery, Carlos-Manuel Rodriguez, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica (and an avid supporter of sea turtle conservation), wrote to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to express concern. In a letter dated October 30th, 2002, Minister Rodriguez appealed to Gov. Bush to “take all possible steps to ensure that our shared sea turtles are adequately considered and safeguarded.” CCC has seen first-hand the efforts and considerable financial commitment that Costa Rican authorities have devoted to sea turtle conservation in Tortuguero.
CCC joins Costa Rica in urging Governor Bush and other Florida officials to ensure the protection of critically important Florida nearshore sea turtle habitats when designing and permitting beach renourishment projects and other human activities that negatively affect these shared sea turtle populations.