Category Archives: Florida


Tour de Turtles Sponsor Spotlight – Ripley’s Aquariums

Sea Turtle Conservancy is excited to have our friends from Ripley’s Aquariums sponsor a turtle in this year’s Tour de Turtles for the third year in a row! Last year, Ripley’s sponsored a loggerhead turtle named Shelley who was released from the Barrier Island Center (BIC) in Melbourne Beach. Shelley  swam 761 km and came in 2nd place in the People’s Choice Award Competition! This year, Ripley’s sponsored turtle will be released from the BIC on Sunday, August 2nd and her name is…. MYRTLE!

Ripleys Myrtle

To decide on a name for their turtle, each of the three Ripley’s Aquariums submitted a name. Those names were then voted on by Ripley’s fans. More than 6,000 online votes were received and Myrtle (submitted by Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach) was chosen as the winner! During this year’s race, Myrtle will be swimming to raise awareness about the threat of plastic debris.

For more than 90 years, Ripley Entertainment, Inc. has entertained visitors around the world, with more than 90 attractions in 10 countries. Ripley Entertainment’s three aquariums in Myrtle Beach, SC, Gatlinburg, TN, and Toronto, Canada have educated millions of visitors. In the next decade, Ripley’s plans to open more aquariums in tourist markets throughout North America and the world.

MB-TURTLELEFTRipley’s mission is to provide an immersive experience into the aquatic world while fostering education, conservation and research. The three aquariums are each home to more than 10,000 exotic sea creatures such as sting rays, sharks and jellyfish, which entertain, inspire and encourage visitors to respect and protect the waters of the world.

Each of the Ripley’s Aquariums are home to non-releasable green sea turtles that swim alongside sharks, moray eels and fish. There is one turtle at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, one at Ripley’s Aquarium of Gatlinburg and two at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. All four turtles receive consistent and excellent care overseen by Dr. Robert George, Ripley’s Chief of Veterinary Services. Ripley’s sea turtle exhibits help educate the public and raise awareness about the threats that sea turtles face.

The past two Ripley’s turtles in the Tour de Turtles race have raised awareness about the dangers sea turtles face from longline fisheries. The turtles, attracted to the bait, get caught on the hooks used to catch fish. Loggerheads face higher risk to longline fisheries than most species of sea turtles because of their feeding habits.

Ripley's sponsored turtle Shelley is released from the BIC in 2014.

Ripley’s sponsored turtle Shelley is released from the BIC in 2014.

Ripley’s is currently involved in numerous conservation efforts such as the AZA’s Party for the Planet/Earth Day Celebration and Species Survival Program, as well as participation in International Coastal Cleanup and other local community cleanups. Ripley’s Aquarium Conservation Team is partnering with the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol to help monitor sea turtle nests along previously unmonitored portions of the beach. Other actions include partnership with the organization Ocean Wise to support sustainable seafood and efforts to reduce in-building energy and water usage.

One of Ripley’s Aquariums main goals is to promote conservation and protection of marine wildlife, and Tour de Turtles is an excellent way to achieve this goal! Ripley’s especially feels that it is important to support sea turtle conservation efforts and sees Tour de Turtles as a way to engage and educate guests about sea turtles.

STC would like to thank Ripley’s Aquariums for its continued support of our Tour de Turtles program!

5 Ways to Have a Sea Turtle-Friendly Summer Vacation

This is a guest post written by Hannah Helsabeck. Hannah is President and Co-Founder of WildMintShop.com, an online shop dedicated to helping families find toxin-free and Eco-friendly products for healthier lifestyles.

Summer vacations are a great opportunity to toss your cares away, have major fun in the sun, and create lots of memories with family and friends. If you seek beaches, campgrounds, or pretty much anywhere outside of the concrete jungle to relax, you’ll want to make sure you’re not leaving anything behind that can harm wildlife as you’re becoming one with nature.

It is estimated that more than 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean and that more than 80 percent of this plastic comes from land. When we throw away or litter plastic items, they can wash out to sea from beaches, streets, and landfills. This pollution often kills wildlife like our precious sea turtles when they ingest it or become entangled in it. That’s why it’s so important to reduce the amount of plastic garbage we produce and seek safer, eco-friendly alternatives.

It’s our responsibility to reflect about the impact we all have on the environment that we share with other animals and there are lots of easy ways to live more eco-friendly lives.  So, as summer approaches, here are 5 simple ways to have a greener (and more sea turtle friendly!) summer vacation:

wildmint reusable bottleWater bottles. A huge offender when it comes to plastic waste is the use of disposable plastic water bottles. Staying hydrated is crucial, but there’s a better way to do it: switch to reusable water bottles. To shy away from plastic bottles and the potentially toxic chemicals used to make them, choose alternatives like glass water bottles or stainless steel instead. Simply refill with your favorite drinks and reuse for all of your adventures.  By making the switch you can help protect our planet, avoid chemicals like BPA/BPS, and reduce your amount of plastic waste.

Tiny turtle in a glass food containers

Tiny fruit turtle in a glass food container

Food containers and baggies. Bringing your own food with you while traveling on vacation is a great way to stay healthy and save money, but plastic containers and bags are not so great for the environment. Plastic bags, big and small, are a huge contributor to marine pollution. Plastic does not biodegrade, meaning that the bag you use once and throw away is sticking around somewhere for a very, very long time. The best way to help reduce this plastic pollution is to completely avoid buying these products and instead opt for non-plastic, reusable sandwich bags and glass food containers (like the one shown with the kiwi turtle!) to pack foods.

Sea turtle friendly summer vacation spots. If you plan on visiting the beach or staying at a hotel on the water, you can check to see if it is sea turtle friendly, meaning that the facility supports conservation through its lighting policies and educational activities. Click here to learn which vacation spots get the STC seal of approval!

DO Naturals sunscreen is certified organic aloe

Natural sun protection. Protect your family from the chemicals found in many sunscreens on the shelf by doing a little more research and choosing natural sunscreen and insect repellent. These mineral-based sunscreens reduce your exposure to the harsh chemicals that can mimic hormones once absorbed in the body found in chemical sunscreens. These products also help to keep these toxic chemicals out of the environment so both plant and animal species can avoid exposure as well.

Straws. Nothing makes a drink feel extra special than a fun straw! Unfortunately, single use disposable straws add to the harmful effects of plastic pollution on the environment. Thankfully there are reusable straws made with stainless steel and glass that are beautiful and eco-friendly. Now you can pop a festive straw in your tropical drink and enjoy knowing that your sustainable choice makes a difference for the better.

In celebration of summer vacations and eco-friendly fun, Wild Mint Shop would like to offer a special discount to Sea Turtle Conservancy readers. Please enjoy 10% off all purchases through June 30, 2015 by using the coupon code TURTLES at checkout. You can find a variety of the reusable and non-toxic products listed in this article and more on Wild Mint Shop.com.

Support wildlife conservation by purchasing a specialty license plate in your state!

It’s been 20 years since Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) led the successful campaign to create a sea turtle license plate in Florida. Now, two decades later, the Helping Sea Turtles Survive license plate is the top selling environmental plate in the state. Revenue generated by the sea turtle tag stretches a long way. Seventy percent of the plate’s proceeds fund the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Protection Program (MTPP). The remaining funds are routed through STC, which distributes funding annually through the Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP).  Since its establishment, the STGP has been able to award more than $4 million in grants to more than 230 sea turtle research, conservation and education projects (http://www.helpingseaturtles.org/index.php)

plateMany other states have similar license plates that also help raise money for sea turtles or local wildlife. Check out our list below!

  •  Endangered Species (South Carolina) The plate features the official state reptile, the loggerhead sea turtle, and the funds are used by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to conserve and protect the state’s endangered and threatened species. (http://www.dnr.sc.gov/admin/endangeredplate.html)SC plate
  •  Jekyll Island Sea Turtle plate (Georgia) – The tag was introduced in 2010 and the funds it produces provide financial support for the Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. The plate also increases awareness of the center on Jekyll Island and the work it is doing to protect and treat injured sea turtles on Georgia’s coast. (http://gstc.jekyllisland.com/Jekyll Island Plate
  • “Save the sea turtles” (North Carolina) The plate fee is $20, and $10 of every purchase is returned to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.(https://edmv.ncdot.gov/VehicleRegistration/SpecialPlate/Detail?PlateID=118#termNC plate
  • Save the Ridley (Texas) The plate is part of an initiative lead by Casa Tortuga, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to promoting the protection of threatened and endangered sea turtles, that aims to establish a specialty license plate to benefit Texas-based sea turtle conservation efforts.(http://www.casatortuga.org/save_the_ridley_plate.html)ridley-plate-sm
  • Whale Tail (California) “Save the beach. Buy a plate.” Sponsored by the California Coastal Commission; funds are used to support coastal education efforts such as the annual Coastal Cleanup Day, the year ‘round “Adopt a Beach” program, and the Whale Tail grants program.(http://www.ecoplates.com/CA whale plate
  •  Environmental Education (Louisiana) “Buy a plate to educate.” Supports funding of environmental education grants for educators and students, the annual Environmental Education Symposium, etc. (http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/environmental-education-license-plateLouisiana plate
  •  Bald Eagle “Give Wildlife a Chance” plate (Georgia): fund benefits endangered and nongame wildlife and plants through conservation, education, land acquisition and recreation projects. (http://georgiawildlife.com/node/340/GA eagle plate
  •  Osprey Plate “Conservation through Education” (Rhode Island): supports environmental conservation through education at the Audobon Society m of Rhode Island or Save the Bay. (http://www.dmv.ri.gov/plates/special/Osprey RI plate

Many states have some sort of wildlife conservation specialty license plate, and this is not a comprehensive list. If your state doesn’t offer a wildlife conservation plate, or even if you just want to add some sea turtle love to your vehicle, check out our replica sea turtle license plate! It can be added to the front of your vehicle, the window or anywhere you see fit and is just $12.95. 

You can also purchase a sea turtle frame for your standard license plate from Blue Marlin License Frames. Ten percent of each purchase is donated to STC! 627250_orig

ACTION ALERT! Amendment 1 Spending Still Needs Your Voice!

75% of Florida voters approved Amendment 1 in November 2014. However, over the past 7 weeks of the Florida Legislative Session, Amendment 1 has run into resistance from leaders in both the House and Senate. The Florida Legislature should trust that the voters knew exactly what they were approving with Amendment 1.

fund florida forever

Now is the time to renew our pleas for increased spending from Amendment 1 for parks and wildlife habitat.  The Senate budget offers a stingy $37 million for land acquisition, partly targeted to springs.

Against the Senate budget, Governor Scott’s budget offers a compelling framework for funding conservation needs. However, neither the House or Senate budget leaders support the governor’s A-1 spending plan.

The Governor’s  budget  proposes, and will put in permanent law, the following:

• $150 million annually for land acquisition and improved land management
• $150 million for the Everglades and a $5 billion pledge over 20 years
• $50 million for Springs recovery and a $1.6 billion pledge over 20 years

amendment 1 trust the votersThe Governor’s budget numbers line up favorably with the Water and Land Amendment Coalition’s proposal and fit with strategies to support existing Florida Forever priorities and Everglades restoration plans.

Surveys show that the voters clearly knew and expected  that Amendment 1 money  would  fund the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire land for conservation, habitat, parks and water resources protection.

Keep contacting your Representatives and Senators to reinforce that message. Click here to find their contact information.

If you call, please say: “Please support the using Amendment 1 fund to acquire land for parks, habitat, water resources, and to protect the Everglades and coastal areas.”

We have about 10 days left to let our elected leaders know that they must fully fund Florida Forever! In addition to contacting your legislators, please also contact Governor Scott and these key legislators involved in the budget process TODAY and tell them to fully fund Florida Forever!

Here is who you can contact:

  1. President of the Senate, Andy Gardiner, (850) 487-5013, Gardiner.andy.web@flsenate.gov
  2. Senator, Tom Lee, (850) 487-5024, Lee.tom.web@flsenate.gov
  3. Senator, Jack Latvala, (850) 487-5020, Latvala.jack@flsenate.gov
  4. Speaker of the House, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, (850) 717-5051, Steve.crisafulli@myfloridahouse.gov
  5. Representative, Richard Corcoran, (850) 717-5037, Richard.corcoran@myfloridahouse.gov
  6. Governor, Rick Scott, (850) 488-4441, Rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com
  7. Senator Alan Hays, (850) 487-5011, hays.alan.web@flsenate.gov

It only takes a few minutes to make the call or email. Every call is a reminder to our legislators that they are accountable to the voters. We know how invested you are in seeing more money go toward protecting our environment and conserving the natural treasures we hold dear. That is the purpose of Amendment 1. For more info and resources, check out Florida’s Water and Land Legacy page.

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd!

color recycle turtle logoEarth Day is a day for us to think about how our lifestyles affect the planet, and it’s a great time to start making small changes to help keep our planet clean and safe for every creature that inhabits it, even humans! This Earth Day, and every day, we are focusing on the dangers of single-use plastic and as always, trying to incorporate the Four R’s into our daily routine–> Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Replenish!

If you’re in the Melbourne Beach area for Earth Day,  join us at the Barrier Island Center (BIC) on April 22 for mangrove potting starting at 5:30 PM followed by a Sea Turtle Friendly Lighting Workshop at 7:00 PM!

BIC lighting workshop

Here are 10 ideas to help you celebrate Earth Day and protect sea turtles!

wildmint reusable bottle1. Reduce the amount of garbage you produce by using reusable bags, water bottles, cups, coffee mugs, plates, bowls, silverware, etc. An easy way to help protect sea turtles and our environment is to get into the habit of recycling and buying products that allow you to avoid trashing plastic all together. More than 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean, and an easy way to decrease that number is to reuse and recycle. We especially love the Eco-friendly products by Wild Mint. In honor of Earth Month, STC partnered with Wild Mint to give our supporters a 15% discount with code TURTLE! Visit www.WildMintShop.com to go green by April 30th!

2.  Become a Turtle Guardian!  Turtle Guardians are a special group of STC Members that help protect sea turtles by giving sustainable monthly donations. And since it’s Earth Month, Turtle Guardians who sign up during April at the $10/month level or higher will receive a FREE reusable grocery tote! Take this handy bag with you anywhere and ditch the plastic. To learn more or sign-up, click here.

A Kemp's Ridley is rescued after ingesting a balloon

A Kemp’s Ridley is rescued after ingesting a balloon

3. Spread the word about the dangers of helium balloon releases. Helium-filled balloons are frequently released into the sky to celebrate events. Like plastic trash, helium balloons end up in the ocean, especially when released near the coast. Sea turtles mistakenly eat the balloons and die. If you know of a group planning a balloon release, politely ask them to consider another attention-getter. Learn more at http://www.balloonsblow.org 

sea bags - turtle tote4. Use reusable bags when shopping. Plastic bags often end up in our waterways as litter, and sea turtles can confuse the bags for a jellyfish and try to eat them. Reusable bags now come in all different styles and are far more practical than a plastic/paper bag that will easily rip. We especially love this sea turtle bag from Sea Bags. The bag itself is made out of a re-purposed boat sail. How cool is that?! From April 22-29, Sea Bags will donate $25 from each sea turtle bag purchased back to STC! Visit http://seabags.com/ to purchase.

caribe sup tortuga board in water5. Get outdoors! A great way to spend Earth Day is enjoying the beautiful outdoors and spot some wildlife on Earth Day is by hitting the nearest spring, river or beach for some stand-up paddle boarding (SUPing). Support sea turtles while you SUP by purchasing a Caribe Sup Tortuga paddle board. Caribe SUP donates $20 of each paddle board purchased to STC AND your Tortuga paddle board comes with a sea turtle adoption! Visit http://caribesup.com/product/tortuga/ for more information.

6. Participate in a beach clean-up: Another great way to get outdoors and help the environment is to participate in a beach, park, river or neighborhood clean-up! Work with local groups or your school to organize a clean-up to clear our planet of trash that could harm wildlife.

7. Help sea turtles every time you drive. If you’re a Florida resident, purchase a “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate for your vehicle! Proceeds from the sale of the sea turtle plate go to support Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Program and help fund the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The grants program awards around $300,000 each year to support research, education and rehabilitation projects that benefit Florida’s sea turtles. Click here to see what projects were funded this year. To learn more about purchasing a plate, visit http://www.helpingseaturtles.org. 

Secondwave - Ralph Pace hatchling raised flipper8. Donate your old phones to SecondWave Recycling! SecondWave focuses solely on recycling cell phones. The materials that go into a cell phone have more than just one life and can be used for new technology. This program keeps phones out of landfills which, prevent harmful toxins from potentially seeping into waterways, and donates 100% of the wholesale value of the phone back to STC! Simply visit Secondwave’s Website to fill out a request for an envelope or print your own label and select ‘Sea Turtle Conservancy’ as your charity. Visit http://secondwaverecycling.com/ for more information!

9. Green your garden! Use compost and mulch to prevent the growth of weeds and
preserve moisture, keeping your water usage low. Research what plants and vegetables are native to your area to help reduce your use of pesticides and fertilizers that can contaminate our water ways from runoff. Switch to biodegradable lawn and garden products and find facilities that properly dispose of toxicchemicals. To find a recycling and collection facility near you, check out Earth911‘s site at http://search.earth911.com/?where.loggerhead apparel word soup tshirt

10. Spread the word in creative ways! Love sea turtles and care about the environment? Show it on your shirt! Our friends at Loggerhead Apparel are donating 50% of all sales to sea turtle conservation for Earth Day! No special codes required. We especially love this “Word Soup” t-shirt.  Every word on this shirt describes either the loggerhead sea turtle or our mission to help save these creatures. A walking conversation piece! Purchase this shirt (or any shirt you like!) and STC will receive half the price!

There are so many easy, daily ways everyone can help sea turtles and the environment that might have been a surprise to you and will probably be a surprise to others. Make sure to share this information with your friends! How will you celebrate Earth Day? Tell us on our Facebook page for a chance to win a special Earth Day prize!

Sea Turtle Grants Program Awards More Than $296,000 to Support Sea Turtle Research, Conservation and Education in Florida

The Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP), funded by the sale of Florida’s Helping Sea Turtles Survive specialty license plate, recently awarded $296,838 to 26 different projects benefiting Florida sea turtles as part of the 2015-2016 grant funding cycle.

plateEach year, the Sea Turtle Grants Program distributes money to coastal county governments, educational institutions and nonprofit groups through a competitive application process. The sea turtle specialty license plate is also the primary source of funding for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Protection Program.

The following organizations received grants for their approved projects for the 2015-2016 cycle:

STC’s Tour de Turtles program is partially funded by a grant from the STGP

The sea turtle plate is the number two 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.

Do not disturb Florida’s nesting sea turtles

FWC NEWS RELEASE – MARCH 2015

It can be thrilling to watch a sea turtle crawl onto the beach at night and dig a large hole in the sand to lay dozens of eggs. Just remember that “Do not disturb” is the best behavior to follow when observing a nesting sea turtle.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks people not to get too close, shine lights on, or take flash photos of nesting sea turtles.

Spring is the beginning of sea turtle nesting season in Florida. From now through the end of October, thousands of sea turtles will land on Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches to lay their eggs.

Loggerhead returns to sea after nesting (Photo Credit: Blair Witherington)

Loggerhead returns to sea after nesting (Photo Credit: Blair Witherington)

With Florida hosting one of the largest loggerhead nesting aggregations in the world, this becomes an opportunity for residents and visitors to play an important role in conserving these long-lived reptiles. People can help by taking turtle-friendly precautions on the beach.

“Take care when you’re on a Florida beach at night and do not disturb the nesting sea turtles,” said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who leads the FWC’s sea turtle management program. “People can help save threatened and endangered sea turtles by giving them enough space and privacy to safely and successfully lay their eggs. It’s as simple as keeping your distance and avoiding shining lights or taking flash photos of the nesting sea turtles.”

Loggerheads, leatherbacks and green turtles are the primary species of sea turtles that nest in the Sunshine State. Loggerheads had another good nesting year in 2014 with 86,870 nests recorded statewide.

“Conservation actions of Floridians and visitors to the state may have contributed to the general upward trend in sea turtle nest numbers in recent years. That’s wonderful news for the sea turtles,” said Trindell. “However, these species still face significant threats during their long-distance oceanic migrations. Whatever we can do to help our sea turtles will make a difference.”

Ways to protect nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings:

  • Remain at a distance from nesting sea turtles and hatchlings.
  • Remove chairs, canopies, boats and other items from the beach at night, because they block the movement of turtles and hatchings.
  • Turn off or shield lights along the beach, in order to prevent hatchlings from getting confused and going toward lights on land instead of the salt water, where they belong.

    Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings crawl to sea (Photo credit: Blair Witherington)

    Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings crawl to sea
    (Photo credit: Blair Witherington)

  • Use red LED flashlights on the beach at night, adjust cell phone screens to dark mode and don’t take flash photos.
  • Fill in holes that people dug in the sand during the day, so nesting sea turtles and hatchlings don’t fall in and get stuck there at night.
  • Correctly dispose of fishing line, so it won’t entangle sea turtles and other animals.
  • Remember it is illegal to harm, harass or take sea turtles, their eggs and hatchlings, including getting too close to a nesting female.
  • Report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline, 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC).

Support Florida’s sea turtles by purchasing the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” license tag at BuyaPlate.com. Tag funds go toward sea turtle research, rescue and conservation efforts. People also can donate $5 and receive an FWC sea turtle decal. For decals or to learn more about sea turtles, go to MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.

To see 2014 statewide nesting totals, go to MyFWC.com/Research, then click on “Wildlife” and “Sea Turtles” and then “Nesting.”

Second-grade students raise money for sea turtles through Read-A-Thon

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Second-grade students from Muller Elementary Magnet School learning about sea turtles and the various threats they face.

Second-grade students from Muller Elementary Magnet School in Tampa, Fla. recently donated nearly $190 to STC after participating in a read-a-thon.

Back in September 2014, Linda Grady, Muller Elementary’s media specialist, started giving lessons to the school’s second graders about sea turtles and the threats they face. During one lesson, the classes played a sea turtle survival game where some students were “threats,” such as fishing nets and oil spills, and other students were “sea turtles” trying to swim across the room. Also, each of the three classes that participated in the lessons adopted a turtle during the 2014 Tour de Turtles marathon and regularly checked its progress.

Linda Grady, Muller Elementary’s media specialist, and second-grade students track turtles during the 2014 Tour de Turtles marathon.

Linda Grady, Muller Elementary’s media specialist, and second-grade students tracking sea turtles during the 2014 Tour de Turtles marathon.

With the students already curious, it made perfect sense to create a community service project to benefit sea turtles. Before the read-a-thon, which took place in January 2015, students asked friends and family to sponsor their reading efforts. Sponsors gave donations to the student based on how many books he or she read, and the proceeds were donated directly to STC.

During the two-week event, the 52 students who participated read a combined 533 books, and one student in particular read an impressive 24 books! The grand total raised by the students for their reading efforts was $189.37.

Grady said the read-a-thon experience was rewarding for both students and teachers, and she would certainly host another project such as this in the future.

point     books     read

STC and FWC Host 18th Annual Florida Marine Turtle Permit Holder Meeting

Sea turtle supporters from all over Florida came together for the 18th Annual Florida Marine Turtle Permit Holder Meeting last weekend, March 6-8. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) hosted the annual meeting that brought together approximately 350 sea turtle experts, Florida’s Marine Turtle Permit Holders and dedicated volunteers.

nesting tape FWCThe meeting, which took place at the Crown Plaza Melbourne, made for a weekend of sea turtle education and discussions about current research, trends and emerging issues in sea turtle conservation throughout the state. A sea turtle social on the evening of March 6 started the gathering with food, fun and familiar faces.

Saturday began with a full day of presentations by FWC, STC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and more. The presentation topics included updates on the 2014 nesting season, stranding trends, updates on sea turtle lighting issues and the latest conservation and ambassador education efforts. During presentation breaks attendees had the opportunity to participate in the silent auction and bid on beautiful sea turtle items such as apparel, artwork, jewelry, toys and trinkets. The silent auction raised almost $3,000 for sea turtle conservation.

A breakfast roundtable discussion concluded the annual meeting for Florida’s sea turtle community on Sunday morning. Participants enjoyed breakfast and table discussions on topics including Sea Turtle-Friendly Lighting, Predation Impacts and Strategies, Sea Turtle Grants Program, Nourishment Monitoring and Education. The annual meeting has become an essential part of the Florida Marine Turtle Protection Program and continued to highlight the importance of education efforts in sea turtle conservation.

Breakfast Roundtable discussion on the Sea Turtle Grant Program led by Dan Evans of STC

Breakfast Roundtable discussion on the Sea Turtle Grant Program led by Dan Evans of STC

The meeting returned to Melbourne Beach in Brevard County for the first time since 2011. This area is important to sea turtles and the dedicated people who work around-the-clock to conserve them. Brevard County beaches are nesting grounds for three different species of marine turtles including the threatened loggerhead, the endangered green turtle and one of the rarest sea turtle species, the leatherback.

Also located in this area is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, named after the late Dr. Archie Carr, Jr., who was the founding scientific director of STC and made extraordinary contributions to sea turtle conservation during his lifetime. The refuge is home to the Barrier Island Center, an educational center used by STC to manage and conduct educational programs through a partnership with the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EELS).

“Sea turtles are a popular and iconic part of Florida’s beaches and coastal waters,” said David Godfrey, Executive Director of STC. “They are indicators of how well we are protecting these resources. The dedicated community of biologists, agency staff and volunteers who make up the Florida Sea Turtle Permit Holders are working together to ensure a bright future both for sea turtles and the habitats they depend upon.”

Nesting Loggerhead (Photo cred: Lazaro Ruda)

Nesting Loggerhead (Photo credit: Lazaro Ruda)

Here are some ways you can help protect sea turtles:

  • Turning off lights or using sea turtle friendly lighting along the coast during the April-October nesting season
  • Not disturbing nesting turtles and their eggs
  • Properly disposing of fishing line
  • Making sure the beaches are clear at night by storing chairs, boats and other potential obstacles for nesting turtles
  • Florida Residents can also help by purchasing the Sea Turtle Specialty License Plate at their local tax collector’s office. Proceeds from the sea turtle tag support the FWC’s Marine Turtle Protection Program, as well as the Sea Turtle Grants Program, which awards funding to local groups, universities and counties throughout Florida to support sea turtle research, education and conservation.

plate

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) would like to thank all those who attended and helped make the 18th Annual Florida Marine Turtle Permit Holder Meeting a success. We hope you all enjoyed the meeting, and we can’t wait to see you all next year!

More information on sea turtles and how to help them, visit www.conserveturtles.org or www.MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.

The Sea Turtle License Plate: Creating a Better Future for Florida’s Sea Turtles for Twenty Years

It’s been 20 years since Sea Turtle Conservancy led the successful campaign to create a sea turtle license plate in Florida. After meeting the requirements to create a new specialty tag and crafting legislation delineating how funds would be used, STC worked with the Florida Legislature to gain near-unanimous approval for the turtle tag during the 1997 Legislative Session.

SeaTurtleLicensePlate - CopyNow, two decades later, the Helping Sea Turtles Survive license plate is the second highest selling specialty plate in the state (behind just the University of Florida tag) and the top selling environmental plate. It’s almost impossible to drive on Florida’s roads without catching a glimpse of the now iconic ocean blue and sand-colored plate featuring a loggerhead hatchling crawling toward the surf. But the sea turtle tag has done more than just turn a few heads.

In the mid-90s, Florida’s fledgling Marine Turtle Protection Program was fighting for survival. The state program had no dedicated funding source and was scraping by on bare-minimum annual appropriations and small grants from another wildlife agency. As a result, sea turtle research, recovery and regulatory efforts in Florida were at risk.

When STC executive director David Godfrey first started with the organization in 1993, at that time running STC’s Florida programs, his first major initiative was to launch the campaign to establish the turtle tag.

STC director David Godfrey talks to media at the Florida Capitol in 1997 to announce a billboard campaign that will introduce the sea turtle tag to Floridians.

“The first thing I did after starting with STC was to travel around Florida meeting with people involved in sea turtle protection to learn about the greatest threats facing these species in the state,” Godfrey said. “I found one of the biggest challenges at the time was a lack of reliable funding for the State’s marine turtle regulatory program. I looked around and saw how successful the manatee tag was and thought to myself there’s no reason we can’t have a sea turtle tag too.”

In 1994, STC partnered with sea turtle groups and advocates across Florida to launch a statewide campaign to create the sea turtle specialty license plate, which would establish a much-needed permanent source of funding for sea turtle regulatory programs. STC spent two years carrying out a petition drive to collect the required 10,000 signatures from Florida vehicle owners who pledged to purchase the new tag once it became available. Godfrey worked with an artist from New York, Elane Eckert, to come up with a catchy design for the tag, and STC developed a long-term marketing plan to build broad support for the tag. The final requirement for establishing a new specialty tag was a $30,000 application fee that had to be paid to the Department of Motor Vehicles to cover the initial costs of printing the tag. The full amount of the fee was loaned to STC, interest free, by an anonymous member of Florida’s volunteer sea turtle community (the loan has since been paid back in full through donations from turtle groups and volunteers all over Florida).

Governor Lawton Chiles signs the bill establishing the Sea Turtle License Plate at a signing ceremony in 1997. STC executive director David Godfrey stands just behind the governor with members of the legislature who sponsored the bill.

The Helping Sea Turtles Survive specialty license plate became official in 1997, when it was passed with overwhelming support of the Florida Legislature. The tag was approved by a 35-0 vote in the Senate and a 116-3 vote in the House of Representatives. The final bill was signed by Governor Lawton Chiles at a ceremony held next to the sea turtle tanks at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

“One of the most unique aspects of Florida’s turtle tag,” said Godfrey, “is that it was established by STC with the support of other citizen groups in order to create a permanent funding source for a government program.”

Today, revenue generated by the sea turtle tag stretches a long way. Seventy percent of the plate’s proceeds serve as the primary source of funding for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Protection Program (MTPP). The remaining funds are routed through STC, which distributes funding annually through the Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP). The program disperses about $300,000 in grants every year to coastal county governments, educational institutions and nonprofit groups through a competitive grants program. Since its establishment, the STGP has been able to award more than $4 million in grants to more than 230 sea turtle research, conservation and education projects.

The STGP Committee meets to discuss which projects will receive funding.

Support for the turtle tag has strengthened over the years. While sales of most specialty plates decreased during the recent economic downturn, the sea turtle plate consistently remained on the list of top sellers. A small portion of revenue from the tag is used by STC to conduct marketing activities on behalf of the sea turtle plate; however, Godfrey credits the long-term success of the plate to the popularity of sea turtles and the passionate support of sea turtle organizations and volunteers around Florida. By purchasing the plate, Floridians are voluntarily funding important programs to save endangered sea turtles and their habitats.

Aside from funding the state’s regulatory program, funds awarded through the Sea Turtle Grants Program have supported important advances in sea turtle research, public education and rehabilitation of sick and injured sea turtles.

Grants from the STGP, funded by the sea turtle specialty license plate, are helping facilities such as The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida to improve rehabilitation efforts for sea turtles. Photo courtesy of The Turtle Hospital.

For example, The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, and other organizations working to rehabilitate sick and injured turtles have received numerous grants for equipment and supplies to help them save sea turtles.

“The Sea Turtle Grants Program has helped The Turtle Hospital to grow into a state of the art medical and educational facility,” said Bette Zirkelbach, manager of The Turtle Hospital.

Perhaps most critical was the emergency grant the hospital received in 2005 after a tidal surge from Hurricane Wilma destroyed part of the facility. “We were devastated by Hurricane Wilma,” said Zirkelbach “The emergency grant from the license plate helped us quickly repair the facility and ensure that no turtles were harmed.”

Since 2013, the Brevard Zoo has received more than $50,000 in grants from the STGP to help build, equip and maintain a fully functional sea turtle treatment and healing center. Before construction of the center, injured sea turtles in the area had to be transported several hours away for treatment to Orlando, Boca Raton or even the Florida Keys. More loggerhead and green sea turtles nest in Brevard County, where the Brevard Zoo is located, than anywhere else in the United States. A new treatment center on the East Coast of Florida can mean the difference between life and death.

New educational displays and activities in the BIC, which were made possible by a grant from the STGP.

New educational displays and activities in the BIC, which were made possible by a grant from the STGP.

Jon Brangan, deputy director of the Brevard Zoo, said that building the healing center put a shorter distance between the shoreline and a turtle rehab facility. “We can see and triage turtles in half the time that it took in the past,” he said.

Proceeds from the license plate also help institutions improve their educational exhibits. The Barrier Island Center (BIC) located in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is an education center jointly operated by STC and Brevard County. The BIC received a grant in 2014 to expand and update its facilities, making sea turtle education an interactive experience for the nearly 30,000 visitors the center receives annually.

Larry Wood, a biologist with the Zoological Society of the Palm Beaches, received several grants from the STGP to launch a unique in-water study of hawksbill turtles in Florida. Of the five species of marine turtles that visit Florida waters, hawksbills remain the most mysterious to scientists. Because they don’t utilize Florida beaches for nesting hawksbills generally have been considered rare in state waters, despite being reported often by SCUBA divers along Florida’s southeast coast.

As a highly endangered species and an important member of the coral reef community, understanding and conserving hawksbill turtles in this part of their range is important to the future of both. Dr. Wood’s work to document the population of hawksbills living off of Florida’s east coast likely would not have been possible without the support of the sea turtle license plate.

The success of the Sea Turtle License Plate shows how much can be achieved when Floridians join forces to preserve what is important. Every time someone makes the switch to the sea turtle license plate, we create a better future for Florida’s sea turtles. Together, we are helping sea turtles survive every time we drive.

To learn more about the Sea Turtle License Plate and the Sea Turtle Grants Program, please visit www.helpingseaturtles.org.

Stewardship Fun with the Barrier Island Center

By Lexie Beach, STC Communications Coordinator

Back in November, I had the opportunity to participate in a fun Citizen Science Field Excursion organized by STC staff at the Barrier Island Center (BIC) in Melbourne Beach, FL. For those who are unfamiliar with the BIC, it is an environmental education center located in the heart of the Archie Carr National Refuge that is jointly managed by STC and Brevard County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands Program. With staff and volunteers based year-round at the BIC, STC conducts a variety of programs in partnership with the local community that are building coastal awareness and stewardship for the Carr Refuge and the entire barrier island ecosystem. Activities include guided sea turtle walks, beach clean-ups, and dune restoration projects, just to name a few. The BIC also hosts visiting school groups as well as local residents and tourists and is the site of STC’s annual Tour de Turtles release each summer. The facility and its exhibits are open to the public for free and many of the programs are offered for little to no cost.

Along with a group of 20 budding conservationists, I spent a beautiful fall day exploring Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, feeding sea horses at the Vero Beach Marine Lab, checking oyster gardens in the Indian River Lagoon and learning about citizen science projects from around the world. We were also treated to several special guest presentations over a picnic lunch in Sebastian Inlet State Park, which looked especially picturesque that day.

The morning began with a short shuttle ride to Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, America’s first National Wildlife Refuge! After learning about the Refuge’s history from an extremely-knowledgeable volunteer, we were free to roam and explore the scenic trails while trying to spot local wildlife. More than 30 species of birds use Pelican Island as a rookery, roost, feeding ground, or loafing area and 16 different species of birds nest there. Several species of sea turtle as well as Florida manatees and bald eagles are also occasionally spotted within the Refuge.

Our next stop was the Florida Institute of Technology Vero Beach Marine Lab where we learned how we could help save sea horses through a citizen science initiative. We even got an up-close look at newborn sea horses as well as several other species, such as clown fish, which are bred at the Lab for aquaculture use. During our sea horse presentation, I realized that sea horses and sea turtles actually share many similarities when it comes to the threats they are faced with. Water pollution, shrimp trawling, and harvest for consumption in the Asian market are all major threats to these charismatic species which make their home right here in Florida waters.

Other highlights of the day’s adventure included a great presentation by STC Board Member, Peggy Cavanaugh, whose passion about online citizen science projects was positively contagious! Husband and wife team Paul and Anne Lins also spoke about their incredible experiences as volunteer marine mammal responders and sea turtle stranding rescues. We finished the day out on the dock of Hog Point Cove Sanctuary learning about the oyster gardens that are deployed there to help gauge the health of the Indian River Lagoon.

This particular field excursion was just one of the many environmental stewardship workshops the BIC organizes each month. The majority of these programs are free, with some of the more involved ones costing a small donation. This Citizen Science Field Excursion also included lunch and transportation from the BIC. A schedule showing all the activities taking place each month at the BIC can be accessed on the STC website and BIC Facebook page, so you can be on the lookout for programs that interest you.

As the human population on Brevard County’s coast continues to grow, STC and the BIC will play an increasingly important role in protecting the fragile barrier island and its globally important sea turtle nesting beaches by educating the surrounding community and providing hands-on learning opportunities for all ages. To learn more about the BIC, visit http://www.conserveturtles.org/barrierislandcenter.php

Volunteers Plant More than 7,000 Sea Oats to Restore Sea Turtle Nesting Habitat

Volunteers headed to the beach with sea oat seedlings to plant

STC’s fifth annual Sea Turtles Dig the Dune workshop brought together more than 150 volunteers at the Barrier Island Center (BIC) on Saturday, Feb. 7 to plant nearly 7,000 sea oats throughout the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge (ACNWR).

The ACNWR stretches 20.5 miles between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso Beach along Florida’s east coast and with recent climate changes, severe weather and sea level rise, erosion is becoming a critical issue for the area.

The dune habitat not only protects our coastal properties, but also provides important nesting locations for the three species of endangered sea turtles found in the ACNWR, including Loggerheads, Greens and Leatherbacks.

A family new to Barrier Island joins the planting

STC gave coastal residents and communities free sea oat seedlings and planting permits during the workshop, which was partially funded by the Florida Sea Turtle license plate. The sea oat’s tall grass can capture the wind-blown sand necessary to build the dunes back up, and its widespread, stable roots will keep the dunes in place for years to come.

After the planting, STC invited everyone to the BIC for an educational presentation by Larry Wood, founder of the Florida Hawksbill Project. Attendees learned about Wood’s recent research on the endangered hawksbill sea turtles that inhabit coral reefs off the coast of south Florida.

Some of STC’s workshop partners and participants shared what they thought of the event this year:

“A GIANT thanks goes out to Sea Turtle Conservancy for sharing sea oat seedlings for our volunteers to plant…thanks again everyone for a job well done!”
Curtis Byrd,
Chairman, Town of Melbourne Beach Environmental Advisory Board

Opus 21 Condo Residents, Cheryl, George, Mary & Sophie prepared to plant

 

“Thanks, once again, for providing us with sea oats seedlings. I lost no time in getting them planted. Our dune is looking healthy and beautiful as a result of these stewardship workshops you have offered over the last 5 years!”

Carl & Judy Kaiserman
Barrier Island Residents

Melbourne Beach Dune after planting

“We had lots of fun planting the sea oats!! Thanks for giving us the opportunity to do something for our beaches and turtles.”
Glenn, Cheryl, George, Mary & Sophie
Opus 21 Condominium

 

This year’s workshop planted more seeds than ever before. We look forward to watching our volunteer’s hard work grow into a better future for Florida’s wildlife, and we hope you’ll join us next year.

To see more photos from the event, visit the Barrier Island Center on Facebook.

Action Alert! Help ensure the Florida legislature spends Amendment 1 money the right way

UPDATE! Join STC in Tallahassee on February 18, 2015 for a rally to show your support for Amendment 1 and what it means for protecting our treasured natural areas! Florida’s sea turtles need clean water and healthy beaches! Even if you are unable to attend the rally, you can still help by sending your comments to the senate.

Clean Water Rally Website Banner2Learn more here: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5215/p/salsa/web/common/public/content?content_item_KEY=11817  

AMENDMENT 1 – Preserves and Parks, NOT Pipes!

Thanks to the support of voters like you, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment passed on Nov. 4, 2014 by an overwhelming 75 percent majority!

Amendment 1 Support

Amendment 1 is our best opportunity to keep drinking water clean, protect our rivers, lakes, and springs, restore natural treasures like the Everglades, and protect our beaches and shores—without any increase in new taxes.  It is the largest state conservation funding measure in the history of the United States.

Photo by Alachua Conservation Trust

Photo by Alachua Conservation Trust

Amendment 1 calls for renewed state spending on water and land conservation including restoring and protecting water resources, preserving critical habitat, providing access to public lands and state parks, and keeping working lands, farms and forests as part of Florida’s rural landscapes. That means a better future for Florida, its citizens, and for Florida’s ecosystems and the wildlife that depend on them such as sea turtles.

Protecting and cleaning our rivers, springs and estuaries will result in healthier marine environments for sea turtles. Protecting beaches and adding to beachfront public parks through acquisition will improve nesting habitat.

So now what?

It’s now up to you, the voters, to tell the Florida legislature to implement Amendment 1 as the people intended; for water and land conservation. By speaking directly to our elected officials, we can help ensure that these funds are put toward the protection of Florida’s natural resources.

The Florida Senate is now seeking public input on how best to allocate the money approved through Amendment 1. You can click here to submit your comments and tell your elected officials how and why these funds should be used as they were intended. You can also click here to find out who your State Representative or Senator is. Below are some talking points to assist you:

  1. TREMENDOUS POPULAR SUPPORT

  • Voters approved Amendment 1 by an overwhelming 75%.
  1. CLEAR AND DIRECT LANGUAGE

  • The amendment language is clear and was drawn from existing statutes governing conservation.
  • It provides a straightforward set of priorities for spending existing documentary stamp taxes on water and land conservation, by specifically invoking statutory language relating to existing conservation programs like Florida Forever, Florida Communities Trust, and Everglades Restoration.
  • Throughout all stages of the campaign to pass Amendment 1, the Sponsor Committee’s voter education and outreach emphasized the need for Amendment 1 to renew funding to these existing programs.
  1. PROTECTING WATER AT THE SOURCE

    vote yes 3

    Photo by Florida’s Water Land Legacy

  • Protecting conservation lands is essential to protecting our water resources. We must protect our waters at the source.
  • Development is on the rise, and Amendment 1 is intended to strike the right balance between development and conservation. We must invest in our undeveloped natural areas before they are gone and should avoid allocating Amendment 1 funds towards projects that would promote imprudent development.
  • In addition to preserving natural areas that protect our water supply, Amendment 1 is also intended to fund ecosystem restoration projects.
  1. ALTERNATIVE FUNDING SOURCES FOR WASTE WATER AND WATER SUPPLY NEEDS

  • Other, existing non-Amendment 1 sources of funding (such as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund) are available and should be utilized to address the significant and costly waste water infrastructure and water supply issues facing our state.
  • While waste water and water supply infrastructure are important, there are other sources of funding that would be more appropriate to meet those needs than Amendment 1. The voters did not intend for Amendment 1 funds to be used on large waste water infrastructure projects that are the responsibility of local governments.
  1. NO IMPACT ON OTHER IMPORTANT SERVICES

  • Amendment 1 does not take away from other vital programs like housing and transportation, which are also partly funded through Documentary Stamps.
  • Documentary stamp tax revenues are projected to increase, so the overall “pie” available for conservation, housing, and transportation is growing.
  • Amendment 1 allocates less than 1% of the state’s total budget to fund existing conservation programs.
Winner 1

Photo by Courtney Huisman

Amendment 1 puts a lot at stake for Florida’s land, water, natural resources and wildlife. If we could join forces with the same passion we used to pass Amendment 1, we can help provide a better, more prosperous future for all of us.

To provide comments to the state senate committee about the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, visit http://www.flsenate.gov/media/topics/wl.

To learn more about Amendment 1 and where we go from here visit The Florida Water & Land Legacy website at http://yes1fl.org/tools15. Florida’s Water and Land Legacy is the sponsoring committee of Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, which was approved by more than 4.2 million voters in the November 2014 election. It represents a coalition of more than 400 organizations (including the Sea turtle Conservancy) and businesses and more than 50,000 citizens from across the state.

Fifth Annual “Sea Turtles Dig the Dune” Workshop – Feb. 7th

Volunteers plant sea oats at the ACNWR during the 2014 workshop

Volunteers plant sea oats at the ACNWR during the 2014 workshop

Join STC on Saturday, February 7 at 10 a.m. at the Barrier Island Center (BIC) for a morning of planting sea oats throughout the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge (ACNWR) as part of our Annual Sea Turtles Dig the Dune Workshop!

The ACNWR is one of the most important nesting beaches in the world and stretches across 20.5 miles between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso Beach along Florida’s east coast.

Coastal residents and communities will be given free sea oat seedlings and planting permits.

Together we can help to restore the dunes and sea turtle nesting habitat of the ACNWR!

After a morning of plantings everyone is invited to return to the BIC, which is located in the heart of the ACNWR, at noon. Long time sea turtle biologist Larry Wood, leader of the Florida Hawksbill Project, will then give a presentation.

Photo by Karla Munoz

Photo by Karla Munoz

Wood will discuss his team’s recent studies documenting the abundance, origins and activities of the hawksbill sea turtles that inhabit coral reefs off south Florida’s coast. Refreshments will be served.

At last year’s workshop, more than 100 volunteers joined forces to plant more than 5,000 sea oats!

Enrollment in the FREE workshop is limited, so call 321-723-3556 to make your reservation by Friday, January 30.

plate

      This workshop was partially funded by the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate.

Tour de Turtles 2014: And the Winner is….

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 2014 TOUR de TURTLES MARATHON WINNER, LEATHERBACK PANAMA JACK AND HER SPONSORS AT TURTLE & HUGHES, INC!

TdT Marathon Winner Panama Jack

TdT Marathon Winner Panama Jack

There was no shortage of excitement in this year’s Tour de Turtles (TdT) marathon! This was the seventh consecutive year that Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) followed the migration of 11 sea turtles as part of the TdT and we are continually amazed by the unending support and enthusiasm shown for our turtle “competitors!”

Melba2014-07-27 061-XLThe 2014 TdT included live turtle releases in Panama, Costa Rica, Nevis and Florida. This year was the first time that a rehabilitated loggerhead turtle competed in the TdT. ‘Pine Tyme‘, an 80 pound sub-adult loggerhead, was spotted struggling on the surface unable to dive and was brought to The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL for treatment. She was released from Sombrero Beach, The Florida Keys and marked STC’s first ever release in the Florida Keys.

Before releasing each turtle, STC scientists attached a satellite transmitter to their shell using turtle-safe epoxy or fiberglass resin. The transmitters allowed STC and the public to track the turtles as they migrated from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. After three months of friendly competition, we have our winners, along with “updates from the field” from the turtle competitors!

TDT Leaderboard FINAL

Distance Race:
WINNER – Panama Jack, 3936 km, Team Turtle & Hughes, Inc.
2nd – Calypso Blue III, 2685 km, Team Atlantis Resort
3rd – Esperanza, 1679 km, Team Treadright & Contiki Holidays
4th – Estrella, 1549 km, Team Sea Turtle Conservancy
5th – Elsa, 1445 km Team Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
6th – Melba, 1226 km, Team Turtle Tag www.helpingseaturtles.org
7th – Shelley, 761 km Team Ripley’s Aquariums
8th – Pine Tyme, 684 km Team Turtle Hospital
9th – Anna, 672 km, Team Disney’s Vero Beach Resort & Disney’s Animal Programs
10th – Coco, 593 km & 
11th – Sugar, 517 km, both Team Four Seasons Resort Nevis

People's Choice WINNER

 

People’s Choice Award: 

WINNER – Calypso Blue III
2nd – Shelley
3rd – (TIE) Esperanza and Panama Jack
5th – Pine Tyme
6th – Elsa
7th – Coco
8th – Estrella
9th – Anna

 

Updates from our competitors:

1ST PLACE – PANAMA JACK
Species: Leatherback
Release site: Punta Rincon Beach, Panama
Sponsor: Turtle & Hughes, Inc.
Distance traveled: 3936 km.
Update from the Field: Hey everyone, Panama Jack here! Good golly, I just can’t believe I won the Tour de Turtles! I was just splishing and splashing all over the place trying to spread the word about the importance of sea turtle friendly lighting. After I left Punta Rincon Beach in Panama, I made my way over to Mexico, where I heard there were lots of yummy jellyfish for me to snack on! As you can see, I’m a pretty big girl so it’s important that I eat lots and lots of jellyfish to maintain all this energy! Now that the marathon is over, I think I’ll just hang out in the Gulf of Mexico enjoying a nice, belly-filling buffet! Thanks for cheering me on!

P1000449 - Copy2ND PLACE – CALYPSO BLUE III
Species: Leatherback
Release site: Soropta Beach, Panama
Sponsor: Atlantis
Distance traveled: 2685 km.
Update from the field: Calypso Blue III checking in! Phew, I’ve already swam over a thousand miles but I’m not stopping anytime soon! I spent most of the marathon cruising through the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. I even managed to stop by Bourbon Street in New Orleans to have some fun! Throughout my travels, I’ve been telling all my marine friends about how excited I am to have my migration tracked and swim for the cause of commercial trawl fisheries. Louisiana is the largest producer of shrimp in the U.S. which means there are tons of shrimp nets in this very area. Unfortunately, Louisiana hasn’t fully enforced the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on their nets. I had to get stern with a couple of fishermen but quickly befriended some that agreed to compromise with me! I think I’m going to head out of the area now just to be safe… Thanks to my friends at Atlantis for always having my shell!

3RD PLACE – ESPERANZAEsperanza2
Species: Green
Release site: Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Sponsor: Contiki Holidays & TreadRight Foundation
Cause: Egg Harvest for Consumption
Distance Traveled: 1679 km.
Update from the Field: Hola, mis amigos! Esperanza’s back to check in with my loyal fans and give a shout out to my sponsors at Contiki and TreadRight Foundation. Without their help and the support of my fans, there’s no way I would’ve found the speed to swim all the way up the ranks from 7th place to 3rd place! Afterall, don’t forget that esperanza is Spanish for hope and – against all odds -I made it onto the winners’ podium! Even though I had quite the rough start to the race with a poacher digging up my nest and stealing my eggs, my friends at STC were able to save the day and rebury my precious eggs, which just hatched in September! Thanks to everyone who cheered me on and helped raise support for the many threats my species face, especially poaching. I couldn’t have done it without you! Adios!

4TH PLACE – ESTRELLA
Species: Hawksbill
Release site: Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Sponsor: Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC)
Distance Traveled: 1549 km.
Update from the Field: Greetings, humans. Estrella here. According to my calculations, I did not swim far enough to qualify for the Tour de Turtles winner podium. Nonetheless, it’s been quite the journey! Throughout my travels, I’ve been collecting research and data off the coast of Nicaragua and what I’ve found was quite peculiar… The number of turtles that I encountered in the area was very limited. These findings may be due to the fact that it is actually legal in parts of Nicaragua to capture and consume turtles as they’re apart of the natives’ diet. Raising awareness about such issues and enforcing policies will hopefully help get my fellow turtles (and me!) off the endangered species list. Well, I’m going to kick it into high gear now and try to swim past Nicaragua… I certainly wouldn’t want to end up as someone’s dinner!

5TH PLACE – ELSAElsa-Turtle2014(15)
Release site: Disney’s Vero Beach Resort
Sponsor: Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
Distance Traveled: 1445 km.
Update from the Field: Hello there peasants! Yes, I am Elsa, named after the queen from Disney’s Frozen. I’m here to report back to my original kingdom at Disney’s Vero Beach to discuss some of the royal duties I’ve partaken in since I left my sand castle in July. My duties took me from Vero Beach to Key Largo to Cuba, and I recycled and picked up trash and other marine debris along the way. It’s only right that the Queen pays her respects to the ocean. Naturally, I ran into some issues when trying to eat dinner the other night and mistook a plastic grocery bag for a delicious jellyfish. This is a situation that could be avoided by recycling plastics and using reusable bags. Wish me luck, I’m off to conquer my next kingdom… The Bahamas!

6TH PLACE – MELBAMelba2014-07-27 064-XL
Species: Loggerhead
Release site: Melbourne Beach, FL
Sponsor: FL Sea Turtle License Plate
Distance Traveled: 1226 km.
Update from the Field: Aloha dudes and dudettes! Melba here. Because of the gnarly waves I tried to catch while swimming, I accidentally moved all the way down from 3rd place to 6th place… But the journey was absolutely tubular! I met some fellow surfer chicks along the way and took the opportunity to teach them about a totally important cause—water quality, dude! They promised me they would work together to try and prevent oil spills and urban run-off caused by fertilizers and other chemicals so that we can safely enjoy the stellar surf for years to come! But I’m off to celebrate my Tour de Turtles success with some chill loggerhead ladies… I might even buy myself one of those rad sea turtle license plates for my carapace! Catch ya on the flip side dudes!

7TH PLACE – SHELLEYShelley2014-07-27 043-XL
Species: Loggerhead
Release site: Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge
Sponsor: Ripley’s Aquariums
Distance Traveled: 761 km.
Update from the Field: Hello darlings! You all know me as Shelley, the turtle with levels of glamour that Vogue couldn’t even handle. I won’t lie, being without my glam squad and entourage these past few months was rough but I knew my migration was raising awareness about the issue of commercial longline fisheries, and that is important. I think of the ocean as my runway and plan to continue swimming through it with grace and poise. How can I do that if I have to worry about being caught up in longline fishing? Luckily, I didn’t come across any during my travels, probably because my fabulous sponsors at Ripley’s Aquariums have been cheering me on. Even though I didn’t win the race, I’m hoping there is still a chance at a tiara. Ciao, bellas!

8TH PLACE – PINE TYMEPine Tyme TdT page
Species: Loggerhead
Release site: Marathon, Florida Keys
Sponsor: The Turtle Hospital
Distance Traveled: 684 km.
Update from the Field: For a previously injured turtle, I’ve come a long way! Mostly thanks to my great friends at The Turtle Hospital. After gaining my strength back, I traveled over 400 miles from Marathon, Florida to my current location right outside the Dry Tortugas National Park. This national park is about 70 miles off the coast of Key West and was established to protect the island and marine ecosystems. I had to duck out of the way of several speeding boats along the way so now I’m just trying to steer clear of the ferries touring the place. As a rehabilitated turtle who was also the last to enter the race, I knew I couldn’t afford another setback like a boat strike so now I’m just trying to find a nice, calm place to feed. I honestly can’t even believe I made it this far when just several months ago I was gassy and floating bottom up at The Turtle Hospital! Thanks to everyone who helped cheer me on during the marathon!

9TH PLACE – ANNAAnna
Species: Loggerhead
Release site: Disney Vero Beach Resort (DVBR)
Sponsor: Disney Animal Programs & DVBR
Distance Traveled: 672 km.
Update from the Field: Hi friends, Anna here! I successfully made my way all the way down the Florida coastline and decided to spend some time in Florida Keys. Everything during the marathon went quite swimmingly, except for this one huge storm that got me a little off track last month. I ended up along the shores of Miami, which was a very interesting place indeed. One thing I noticed is that their beachfront hotels and clubs had so many bright lights on, you could probably see them from space! I knew better and wasn’t distracted by their glow but let’s just hope my friends don’t end up drawn towards the lights when they come up to nest! After my little visit to South Beach, I got worn out from signing autographs for all my Frozen fans and set off towards Key West to relax where I plan to stay. Check back with me soon!

10TH PLACE – COCOCoco TDT
Species: Hawksbill
Release Site: Pinney’s Beach, Nevis
Sponsor: Four Seasons – Nevis
Distance Traveled: 593 km.
Update from the Field: Oh, hello there. I didn’t realize this interview was going to be published. I don’t really do well with large groups. Sorry, erm… How about a little joke to break the ice? So, um, I’m on my way to St. Kitts from Nevis and I come across what I thought were some fellow hawksbills. I’m shy enough as it is so I really had to work up the nerve to approach these guys. I try to make conversation, which is rare for me, and I’m getting no reply. I start to get more nervous as their silence lengthens. Was it something I said? Do I have a piece of sponge in my teeth? Finally, I realize I’d been talking to floating coconuts the whole time… That embarrassing encounter certainly did nothing to help me get over my social anxieties. I was also hoping for a confidence boost by winning the Tour de Turtles race, but then I just got so nervous and I decided to stay close to home where I’m most comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with last place, especially since I know the great people at Four Seasons Nevis will always cheer for me, no matter what!

11TH PLACE – SUGARsugar
Species: Hawksbill
Release site: Pinney’s Beach, Nevis
Sponsor: Four Seasons – Nevis
Distance Traveled: 517 km.
Update from the Field: Hi friends! My name is Sugar and I’m the sweetest hawksbill you’ll ever meet! During the Tour de Turtles, I got some slack from a few mean turtles about my slow pace but I couldn’t help that I enjoyed the beautiful waters of the Caribbean so much! Who said there’s anything wrong about being on island time? The water near St. Kitts is especially warm, I just hope it’s not due to climate change! I promise to do some investigating while I’m here and raise awareness about this potential threat. Now excuse me while I go enjoy a deliciously sweet drink with my friends at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis to celebrate the end of Tour de Turtles!

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Sea Turtle Conservancy would like to give a big THANK YOU to all of our great turtle sponsors for this year’s Tour de Turtles — Four Seasons Resort, NevisDisney’s Animal ProgramsDisney’s Worldwide Conservation FundDisney’s Vero Beach ResortTurtle & Hughes, Inc.Atlantis ResortRipley’s AquariumsContiki HolidaysThe TreadRight FoundationThe Turtle Hospital — and Florida’s Sea Turtle License Plate.

TdT BIC

A Good Year for Sea Turtles in Florida – Nesting Numbers on the Rise

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Photo by Pieter Jordaan

Early numbers show that nesting by green and leatherback turtles is on an upward trend in Florida! Leatherbacks set a new record on many beaches and in the last five years, there has been a surprisingly high number of green sea turtles nesting along Florida’s coast.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s studies from this year show that green turtle nesting numbers have been following a pattern. Every two years nesting numbers fluctuate. The last two high records for green turtle nests were in 2011 and 2013. As predicted, nesting numbers were down from last year. However, there has been an overall exponential increase over the last 26 years for greens and leatherbacks in Florida.

Loggerheads deposited eggs in 46,885 nests this year. That count was from the state’s “index” locations at 26 beaches, where nest monitoring has been done by researchers using the same methods since 1989. Index counts are done during a 109-day window, which means tallies are smaller than annual totals, but the index data are valued for detecting trends.

Leatherback nesting numbers reached an all-time high this year and set a new record in Florida, according to FWC research scientists.

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Photo by Vickie Openshaw

Since 2010, loggerhead nest counts at the index sites have amounted to a rebound. The count in 1998 of 59,918 plunged to 28,074 nests by 2007. But by 2012, the nest count was back up to 58,172.

One of the most important nesting beaches in the world for loggerheads is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast. So far this year, there has been 15,103 loggerhead sea turtle nests, 1,812 green turtle nests and 79 leatherback sea turtles nests (another new record for leatherbacks!)

The monitoring program on sea turtle nesting in Florida is an outstanding collaboration involving more than 2,000 individuals with diverse backgrounds who share a common passion for sea turtles. The extensive data collection from more than 800 miles of beach is made possible with the help of FWC-trained and authorized surveyors from conservation organizations; universities; federal, state and local governments; and hundreds of private citizens.

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Photo by Melissa Ochoa

There is wide agreement that Florida and federal protections have contributed significantly to survival of sea turtles, especially green turtles, which were on the verge of disappearing from Florida in the 1970s. Laws protecting turtles and their nests have been accompanied by progressively better attitudes among communities in switching to sea turtle friendly lighting or removing bright lights all-together.

While nesting season may be coming to an end, hatchlings will continue to emerge from their nests for the next two months or so.

Sea turtles lay an average of 100 eggs per nest. That means we are expecting to welcome about 5 million new sea turtles to this world! Unfortunately, only one out of 1,000 hatchlings will make it to adulthood. The hatchling survival rate is so low due to predators, storms, getting disoriented by bright lights, ingesting marine debris, etc. Predators such as certain fish, dogs, birds, ants, raccoons, ghost crabs, and more feed on baby sea turtles and eggs, so survival on land and in water is risky. Also, hatchlings may mistake small floating pieces of plastic for food, which can be deadly to them. It’s important for Florida residents to help make both the beaches and ocean a safe place for the hatchlings to begin their lives!

If you spot a hatchling in distress, such as one washed back from a storm or wandering far from the beach, do not pick it up and return to the water. Instead, you should contact the nearest sea turtle facility or the Florida Fish and Wildlife at 1-888-404–FWCC for help. Often times these hatchlings need some time to rest and recuperate before trying to head back out to the ocean. Stay tuned for the official sea turtle nesting numbers to come later this year!

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Photo by Kevin E Geraghty