Sea Turtle Conservancy is proud to announce the release of a series of short videos about sea level rise and the need to protect Florida’s beaches in an era of rising seas. The video series, Ahead of the Tide, was produced in partnership with the nonprofit organization CAVU.
Sea level rise will have serious and long term impacts to the state’s sea turtle nesting beaches. Our hope is that this series of short, powerful films will help to serve as a Call to Action for all Floridians to demand that our elected leaders, government agencies and coastal communities begin planning for sea level rise in order to protect Florida’s most valuable asset — its natural sandy beaches — both for sea turtles and for people. Below is Chapter One – Florida’s Lifeblood.
Sea Turtle Conservancy believes many specific actions can be taken and policies implemented to reduce the impacts of sea level rise and climate change on sea turtle nesting beaches while also helping to protect our beaches and to ensure coastal resiliency. Most importantly we have to start making the right and smart decisions now. Of the hundreds of pages that make up Florida’s coastal development and beach management laws there is no mention of sea level rise despite the fact that Florida’s beaches are ground zero for impacts. We hope these videos will help raise awareness and empower citizens to demand that our elected officials take action. The state’s beaches belong to all Floridians; they define our state.
You can sign up to be alerted when future chapters of this series are released by visiting Aheadofthetide.org.
The holidays are near, which means it’s time to celebrate generosity and give! On December 1, 2015 Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) will be participating for a third time in #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday provides one day to make a BIG difference!
STC needs your help on this special day to support the Barrier Island Center (BIC)! The BIC, located in Melbourne, FL in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, is an education and outreach center which provides free or low-cost programs to visitors, local schools and community members.
These programs help to educate the public about the important eco-systems of the barrier island, wetlands, and lagoon. These areas provide vital nesting and foraging habitat for sea turtles. Since the BIC opened in 2008 over 245,000 adults and children have been able to learn through hands-on activities such as Eco-Explorers summer camps, oyster mat making, sand dune planting, and much more.
Unfortunately, the BIC recently learned it would not be receiving an annual grant of $15,000 to help fund education programs and other operating costs.
Join the movement and help STC continue it’s efforts to further these educational programs.
Can we count you in for #GivingTuesday? Help us reach our $15,000 goal! Click here to participate!
This article originally appeared in Florida Today here.
MELBOURNE, Fla. — Four decades ago, biologists thought green sea turtles might go extinct. But this year, the endangered reptile dug a record number of nests at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, with two months still left in their nesting season.
“It’s an incredible thing,” said Llew Ehrhart, professor emeritus at University of Central Florida, who’s studied turtle nesting at Archie Carr since the 1980s.
In the 1970s, biologists could only find a handful of green sea turtles nests at Archie Carr and the Melbourne Beach area.
This year, UCF researchers counted 12,026 green turtle nests at Archie Carr refuge, already crushing a record the turtles set at the refuge in 2013 — 11,839 nests.
The nesting at Archie Carr is significant, because biologists consider that span of beach among the most important sea turtle nesting spots in North America and indicative of how turtle nesting is going as a whole.
In general, green sea turtles nesting has “on” years and “off” years, with the number of nests spiking every other year. So biologists anticipated an “on” year. But this is the first time green turtle nests surpassed 12,000 nests, UCF researchers said.
Nesting on the “on” years has ballooned, from 455 nests in 1988 to more than 8,400 nests by 2000.
And now they dig six times that amount of nests.
“This is really a comeback story,” Kate Mansfield, a UCF assistant professor of biology, said in a release. Mansfield leads a team of students and research scientists who monitor turtle counts on the beach during turtle nesting season, which runs May 1 to Oct. 1.
“It is a really remarkable recovery and reflects a ‘perfect storm’ of conservation successes,” Mansfield added, “from the establishment of the Archie Carr, to implementing the Endangered Species Act, among many other conservation initiatives. It will be very exciting to see what happens over the next 20 plus years.”
Green sea turtles are just one of three species that use the refuge as their nesting grounds.
Endangered leatherback and threatened loggerhead sea turtles also nest on Brevard County’s beaches.
Sea turtles dig about 80 percent of their nests in the United States. Archie Carr is home to one of the largest nesting beaches for loggerhead turtles in the Western Hemisphere, with among the highest density of nests.
Hatchlings paddle out against an ever-strengthening current of challenges, which only the fittest of every 10,000 fends off long enough to become an adult turtle.
The increase in green sea turtles nesting is four decades of conservation measures paying off, Ehrhart says.
Pressure from commercial fishing, diseases and habitat loss chipped away at the reptile’s numbers. Hatchlings wander into roads because of bright beach lights. In nations where their sweet-tasting meat is savored by the locals, the perils are worse.
Native Americans and early European settlers also once harvested green sea turtles for their meat.
But laws prohibiting the harvesting of sea turtles, excessive beach lighting and fishing nets that cause turtles to drown have helped their numbers rebound.
In 1978, the federal government listed the green sea turtle under the Endangered Species Act.
Green sea turtle populations in Florida and the Pacific coast of Mexico are listed as endangered. Elsewhere, the species is listed as threatened.
Sea Turtle Conservancy celebrated its 8th annual Tour de Turtles (TdT) with a live sea turtle release on August 2nd at the Barrier Island Center, located in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne, Florida.
Hundreds of people gathered to watch STC researchers release two adult female loggerheads sea turtles, named “Myrtle” and “Dash”, into the ocean to begin their migrations. Myrtle was named by her sponsors at Ripley’s Aquariums and Dash was named by her sponsors at Shark Reed Aquarium. The event was sponsored in part by the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate.
This year 13 sea turtles, representing four different species, were swimming in the race to conduct valuable research and raise public awareness about sea turtles.
The 2015 TdT included live turtle releases in Panama, Costa Rica, Nevis and Florida. This year is the first time a nesting turtle was released from Florida’s West Coast. Loggerhead “Amie” was named by her sponsors from the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch group and released in the Gulf of Mexico in June.
Before each turtle release, STC scientists attached a satellite transmitter to its shell using– safe epoxy or fiber class resin. The transmitter allows STC and the public to track the turtles as they travel and migrate from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds.
Meet the competitors!
Calypso Blue IV, Leatherback
Sponsor: Atlantis Paradise Island
Cause: Commercial Trawl Fisheries
Sponsor: Ripley’s Aquariums
Cause: Plastic Debris
Sponsor: Disney Conservation Fund
Cause: Plastic Debris
Susie Q, Green Turtle
Sponsor: Turtle & Hughes, Inc.
Cause: Light Pollution
Sponsor: Shark Reef
Cause: Commercial Longline Fisheries
Cause: Water Quality
Sponsor: Four Seasons
Cause: Water Quality
Sponsor: Continents Insolites SAS
Cause: Invasive Species Predation
Pawikan, Green Turtle
Cause: Egg Harvest for Consumption
Sponsor: Four Seasons
Cause: Climate Change
Cause: Illegal Shell Trading
Sponsor: The Turtle Hospital
Cause: Boat Strikes
Sponsor: Anna Maria Island
Cause: Beach Erosion
Turtle fans can follow the turtle’s migration online at www.tourdeturtles.org, and cheer on their favorite competitor while learning the threats that sea turtle face. Fans can support their favorite turtle online by virtual adopting, tweeting, or making a pledge for every mile the turtle swims. The turtle who swims the farthest by October 31 will be crowned the winner of the “race”. while the turtle who raises the mist support online, will be crowned the “People’s choice winner”.
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!
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.
Ripley’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 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!
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:
Water 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.
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!
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.
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)
Many other states have similar license plates that also help raise money for sea turtles or local wildlife. Check out our list below!
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.
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.
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
The 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:
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.
Earth 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!
1. 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.
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
4. 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.
5. 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.
8. 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.
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!
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.
Each 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:
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.”
Here are some ways you can help protect sea turtles:
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!
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.
Now, 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.
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.
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
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!”
Chairman, Town of Melbourne Beach Environmental Advisory Board
“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
“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.