Category Archives: Florida

Endangered Species Day

May 16, 2014 marks the ninth annual national Endangered Species Day. Started by Congress in 2006, Endangered Species Day is a day of awareness of the importance of endangered, threatened and at-risk species.


Endangered Species Day 2014 will continue to educate people about the importance of the species that are endangered and the things that can be done to help protect them.

Zoos, parks, gardens, wildlife refuges, museums, schools and community centers, amongst other participants in the U.S., will hold events to further promote, educate and celebrate Endangered Species Day and the reason for its creation. Those who are interested in participating in the celebration should visit to find an event close to them.

The day is a great platform to highlight the success some species have achieved while recovering from being an endangered species. The green sea turtle is one of many species that are considered success stories because of its great recovery after actions were implemented to help enhance and protect the species.

All sea turtles in U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act and the green sea turtle is one of the many species that benefited from the act. Enacted in 1978, the act granted green sea turtles protection by NOAA Fisheries in the ocean and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) in their beach nesting habitats along U.S. coasts.

The species was documented to have fewer than 50 turtles nesting at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast in 1990. In 2013 there were 13,000 nests. This incredible comeback is known as one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time.

Its success can be attributed to the Endangered Species Act, STC and all other supporters who worked tirelessly to ensure that the green sea turtles made its memorable comeback.

Although a lot of species have been delisted due to their recovery, there is still a lot of work to be done to help other species eliminate the risk of endangerment.

There are many things one can do to ensure that they contribute to helping species fight endangerment and extinction. Here are ten tips from the Endangered Species Coalition to help you participate and celebrate Endangered Species Day.

1. Learn about endangered species in your area.
The best way to protect endangered species is learning about them and how they’re important. So teach yourself and educate those around you on the benefits of endangered species. STC’s educational program empowers sea turtle groups throughout Florida, provides educational materials and uses the concept of sea turtle migration tracking as an online educational tool.

Julie Suess - 2

Green Sea Turtle by Julie Suess

2. Visit a national wildlife refuge, park or other open space.
These places are home to a lot of different species, and preserving an endangered species’ habitat is essential to protecting the species. You can help by visiting a refuge close to where you live and become a volunteer. The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Florida is a major safe haven for sea turtles. The refuge is where about 25% of all the sea turtle nesting in Florida occurs.

3. Make your home wildlife friendly.
Secure garbage in shelters or cans with locking lids and feed pets indoors to avoid attracting wild animals to your home. Taking these actions can keep animals like raccoons, which are sea turtle predators, away. Reduce your use of water in your home and garden so animals that live in or near water can have a better chance of survival. If you live on the beach you can make your home sea turtle friendly by implementing sea turtle lighting.


STC volunteers help plant sea oats in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

4. Plant native plants.
Native plants provide food and shelter for native animals. You can plant sea oats on the beach to help prevent dune erosion and provide habitat for sea turtle nesting. STC conducts native dune vegetation planting to provide an additional buffer to reduce or eliminate unwanted light on the beach and to enhance nesting habitat at various project sites in the Florida panhandle.

5. Stay away from herbicides and pesticides.
Herbicides and pesticides may keep yards looking nice, but they are in fact hazardous pollutants that affect wildlife at many levels. Many herbicides and pesticides take a long time to degrade and build up in soil and throughout the food chain. For alternatives to pesticides, visit

Turtle Crossing-Robin Loznak

It’s important to watch out for wildlife, like this turtle trying to cross the road, while driving. Photo by Robin Loznak

6. Slow down when driving.
One of the main obstacles for wildlife in developed areas is roads. Animals that live in developed areas navigate in areas full of human hazards and roads present wildlife with a dangerous threat. So when you’re driving, slow down and be on the lookout for wildlife. You should also apply these practices while boating to avoid harming sea turtles and other endangered species in the water.

7. Recycle and buy sustainable products
Recycle anything that can be recycled and buy sustainable products as a simple gift to nature and its species. Simple things like these make a difference for endangered species.

8. Never purchase products made from threatened or endangered species.
Overseas trips can be exciting and fun, and everyone wants a souvenir. But sometimes the souvenirs are made from species nearing extinction. Avoid supporting the market for illegal wildlife products such as tortoise-shell, ivory and coral. Hawksbill sea turtle shells are often used to be made into sunglasses, jewelry and other trinkets because of their beautiful shell pattern.

Julie Suess - 4

Green Sea Turtle by Julie Suess

9. Stand up for wildlife.
Harassing wildlife is cruel and illegal. Harmful behavior such as disturbing and distracting sea turtles is illegal and can be reported by calling any of the numbers listed on our website.

10. Protect wildlife habitat
Perhaps the greatest threat that faces many species is the widespread destruction of habitat.  Environmental issues such as oil and gas drilling and development result in habitat destruction. Habitats belonging to endangered species should be protected so the impact on endangered species is minimized.

Any effort to help an endangered species is appreciated, so participate and celebrate national Endangered Species Day on May 16, 2014!


The Growing Problems Surrounding Marine Debris

Marine debris is a problem that mostly goes unseen due to ocean currents, but it’s a crisis that continues to grow globally, greatly jeopardizing the marine life ecosystem.


Photo by NOAA

The issue was recently brought into the global spotlight during the search for Malaysian Airline Flight 370. As the search for the missing flight continues, scientists are realizing just how harmful marine debris is globally. What rescue teams thought was debris from the missing plane ended up being a patch of marine litter that had collected in the ocean from currents. The debris poses a major threat to marine life and the ecosystem. To learn more about the situation click here.

It is estimated that over 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris. Scientists believe the largest debris collection is the North Atlantic garbage patch located in the North Atlantic Ocean, which consists of trash from Europe, Mexico, the United States and Canada.

The marine debris includes drift wood, bottles, fishing nets, plastic bags, balloons and many other types of inorganic materials. More than 80 percent of all marine debris comes from land, which causes marine life to mistake the debris for potential food.

Turtle with back in throat - Divine Dolphin

This is a small sea turtle Divine Dolphin Tours found on its tour last week who had a woven plastic bag not only wrapped tightly around one of her flippers, but she had also swallowed part of the bag.

In a study conducted in Brevard and Volusia Counties in Florida, scientists who examined the gut contents from both living and nonliving stranded loggerhead turtles in those counties found that  100 percent of the 94 turtles examined had plastics in their gut contents. Another study conducted in the Gulf Stream Sargassum examined dead post-hatchlings which were left stranded following storms in the same area, and found that almost 100 percent of all the turtles examined had suffered from plastic ingestion.

State legislatures are currently taking steps to protect the ecosystem and marine life from potential marine debris. Hawaii recently passed a law banning plastic bags at checkout counters, and is the only state that has done so.  Unlike Hawaii, Florida law currently prohibits its state and local governments from enacting similar plastic bag bans, and a bill seeking to overturn this ban was introduced in the legislature this year. Although SB 830 “Carryout Bags” did not get very far in the Florida legislature this year, the voices of those who supported it were heard in Tallahassee and had an impact, as many legislators said their offices were “inundated” with calls, Tweets, and emails from supporters.  Thank you to all the sea turtle lovers that reached out to Florida legislators for support of SB830, and  please be sure to thank Sen. Dwight Bullard for sponsoring this bill! For more on this recent effort to change Florida’s law to allow local bans of plastic bags, check out this blog post from Surfrider Foundation Florida Chapter Network.

Balloon in turtle

Another source of marine debris is helium balloons. Although mostly practiced with good intentions, balloon releases create potential harm for marine life. For some species of sea turtles, which feed on jellyfish, turtles eat the balloons mistaking the plastic for jellyfish. The Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota planned to release 60,000 balloons across Minnesota and North Dakota to commemorate its 60thanniversary. However, thanks to the vocalization of many supporters, the foundation is modifying its original plans regarding the balloon release. STC would like to thank all of those who politely shared their opinions with the foundation.

Helium balloons aren’t only dangerous to wildlife, they can be hazardous to humans, too. In 1986, organizers from the United Way of Cleveland attempted to break a world record by releasing 1.5 million balloons outside simultaneously. Unfortunately, when a big storm from the Great Lakes arrived, the balloons were pushed back toward the city. This resulted in the death of two boaters who were unable to be rescued because the Coast Guard could not fly its helicopter through the mass of balloons. Many of the balloons also ended up in the water, and rescuers could not properly search for their victims as the floating balloons looked similar to heads. The event ended up costing the city millions of dollars in law suits.

Fortunately, many states have banned large balloon releases. In Florida, the law states that individuals are allowed to release a maximum of 10 balloons into the air in a 24-hour period. Those who violate the balloon ordinance could be fined a maximum of $250.

There are many other ways to commemorate a special event other than releasing balloons. This article offers friendly alternatives highlighting other options to celebrate events without the use of balloons.

So, what can YOU do to help reduce marine debris? One of the easiest ways is to make the switch from plastic bags to reusable cloth bags. STC is offering a free limited edition reusable STC logo bag for Turtle Guardians who sign up during the month of April at the $10/month.

For other ideas, check out STC’s Actions You Can Take Page:

Urgent Call to Action! Help a Bill to Ban Plastic Bags in Florida!

UPDATE 4/10/14 – Thank you to all the sea turtle lovers who reached out to Florida legislators for support of SB830, “Carryout Bags,” which proposed a potential ban on many plastic bags. Many legislators said their offices were “inundated” with calls, Tweets, and emails from supporters! Unfortunately, after much debate, the bill has been temporarily postponed.

URGENT CALL TO ACTION! WE NEED YOU TO HELP FLORIDA BAN PLASTIC BAGS! Tomorrow morning, Thursday April 10, the FL Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee will consider a bill that could help ban the use of many plastic bags in Florida. The bill, SB 0830 “Carryout Bags” by Sen. Dwight Bullard from South Florida will allow local governments to adopt ordinances that prohibit stores from handing out free plastic carryout bags and that require a 10 cent charge for each recyclable paper bag. Customers are free to supply their own bags.

Currently Florida law prohibits local governments from enacting bans on plastic bags. This bill would overturn the existing law and establish uniform statewide standards for cities and counties that want to implement plastic bag rules.  It simply allows citizens and their local governments the authority to ban plastic bags if they so choose.

The bill provides that the bag ordinance can only apply to large stores meeting at least $2 million in gross annual sales, or that have at least 10,000 square feet of floor space.  (Mom and pop stores are exempt.)

turtle and plastic bags underwaterThis bill will reduce litter, encourage recycling, and potentially save thousands of animals from accidentally ingesting plastic. It is estimated that more than 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. More than 80% of this plastic comes from land. It washes out from our beaches and streets. It travels through storm drains into streams and rivers. It flies away from landfills into our seas. As a result, thousands of sea turtles accidentally swallow these plastics, mistaking them for food. Most of the debris is recognizable: plastic bags, balloons, bottles, degraded buoys, plastic packaging, and food wrappers. Some plastics aren’t so easy to see, so small, in fact, that it is invisible to the naked eye. If sea turtles ingest these particles, they can become sick or even starve.

Check out this moving animated video that illustrates the devastating impact that marine litter has on a variety of species:


We are asking you to please politely urge Committee members to vote ‘YES’ on the Carryout Bags bill! See below for a list of who to contact:


Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation 2014


Local Delegations Capitol Phone Email Address
Sen. Charles S. Dean, Chair Baker,Citrus,Columbia,Dixie,Gilchrist,Lafayette,Levy,Marion,Suwannee,Union (850) 487-5005
Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, Vice Chair Palm Beach (850) 487-5025
Sen. Thad Altman Brevard,Orange,Seminole (850) 487-5016
Sen. Dwight Bullard Collier,Hendry,Miami-Dade,Monroe (850) 487-5039
Sen. Jeff Clemens Palm Beach (850) 487-5027
Sen. Andy Gardiner Brevard,Orange (850) 487-5013
Sen. Denise Grimsley Highlands,Martin,Okeechobee,Osceola,Polk,St. Lucie (850) 487-5021
Sen. Jack Latvala Pinellas (850) 487-5020
Sen. Wilton Simpson Hernando,Pasco,Sumter (850) 487-5018
Sen. Darren Soto Orange,Osceola,Polk (850) 487-5014,,,,,,,,,

Are you on Twitter? Tweet this to the Senators listed: Please support SB830 Carry Out Bags to ban plastic bags & help protect our environment #YesOn830

Twitter handles:

Sen. Thad Altman – @SenatorAltman

Sen. Charles S. Dean – @CharlieDeanSD5

Sen. Jeff Clemens – @ClemensFL

Sen. Denise Grimsley – @DeniseGrimsley

Sen. Jack Latvala – @JackLatvala

Sen. Wilton Simpson – @WiltonSimpson

Sen. Darren Soto – @SenDarrenSoto

Or reach the Senators on Facebook by clicking these links: Sen. Jeff Clemens, Sen. Andy Gardiner, Sen. Denise Grimsley, Sen. Wilton Simpson

Please also join us in thanking Senator Bullard for sponsoring this important bill once again. He can be reached at, on his Facebook page or on Twitter @DwightBullard




STC Earns 4-Star Rating for Ninth Consecutive Year

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is proud to announce its 9th consecutive top rating from Charity Navigator, the leading evaluator of non-profit groups in the United States. STC once again received 4 out of 4 stars, indicating that our organization adheres to good governance and other practices that minimize the chance of unethical activities and consistently executes our mission in a fiscally responsible way.


“The Board and staff of Sea Turtle Conservancy take great pride in our consistent high ratings from Charity Navigator,” said David Godfrey, STC executive director, “and it gives our donors confidence that their contributions are being managed wisely to the maximum benefit of sea turtles.”

According to Charity Navigator, only 1% of the charities they rate have received 9 consecutive 4-star evaluations, and this indicates “that Sea Turtle Conservancy outperforms most other charities in America. This ‘exceptional’ designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Sea Turtle Conservancy from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.

Photo by Ralph Pace.


STC spends 85 cents of every dollar donated directly on research, conservation and education programs. STC’s commitment to transparency, good governance and fiscal responsibility ensures that donations are used in an efficient manner to support conservation programs.

“STC’s coveted 4-star rating puts it in a very select group of high-performing charities,” said Ken Berger, President and CEO of Charity Navigator. “Out of the thousands of nonprofits Charity Navigator evaluates, only one out of four receives 4 stars – a rating that, now, with our new Accountability and Transparency metrics, demands even greater rigor, responsibility and commitment to openness. STC’s supporters should feel more confident that their hard-earned dollars are being used efficiently and responsibly when it acquires such a high rating.”

STC’s rating and other information about charitable giving are available free of charge on Charity Navigator.

STC Produces White Paper on Coastal Armoring

The construction of sea walls (also referred to as coastal armoring or shoreline hardening) in or immediately adjacent to sea turtle nesting habitat can degrade nesting habitat, deter sea turtles from nesting, and increase beach erosion. As erosion from storms, sea level rise and poorly located development continues to threaten beaches and upland structures, landowners often resort to sea walls to protect their property. Coastal Tech, under a pro bono contract with Sea Turtle Conservancy, produced a report to inform the public and provide guidance on how to best construct and locate seawalls as far landward as practicable and in accordance with state laws. The report, titled, “Guide to Siting of Seawalls” can be read on STC’s website here. Coastal Tech is a consulting firm specializing in coastal engineering and coastal zone management and can be found on the web at

Sea walls literally draw a line in the sand and prevent beaches from migrating or from recovering naturally after storm events. They lock up sand on the landward side that would normally be deposited onto an eroded beach. When they interact with waves, they deflect the wave energy back onto the beach in front of or to the sides of the wall, resulting in increased erosion and a lowering of the beach, especially immediately in front of the wall.

West of Blue Mtn beach -4-16-06

Because sea walls can have such significant harmful impacts to the beach and dune system and to sea turtle nesting habitat, they are generally discouraged and alternatives such as dune restoration and beach renourishment are preferred  to provide protection for upland structures. Of course, not building too close to the beach is the best way to avoid needing a sea wall. Too often however, we allow people to build far too seaward and on top of the most seaward dunes.

Vilano Bech 4 9-10-08

By blocking access to the upper portion of the beach, sea walls cause sea turtles that are trying to nest to turn around and head back to the surf, abandoning their nesting attempt (referred to as a false crawl). They also cause turtles to nest in less than optimum or suitable habitat. They can nest right in front of the wall where the nest and hatchings are susceptible to waves and repeat inundation from the surf. In this photo sea turtles trying to access the safe upper portion of the beach were forced to nest at the base of the sea wall. The stakes mark the turtle nests.

These stakes mark sea turtle nests near a sea wall

These stakes mark sea turtle nests near a sea wall

Click here to learn more about the threat of coastal armoring to sea turtles and watch a short animated video.

Green Sea Turtles Highlighted As Conservation Success Story by Endangered Species Coalition

Forty years ago this month, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act—our nation’s safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction. On December 6, the, which Sea Turtle Conservancy is a member of, marked the anniversary with a new report highlighting a few of the great wildlife conservation accomplishments since the Act’s passage in 1973. The report is entitled, Back from the Brink: Ten Success Stories Celebrating the Endangered Species Act at 40and it features the green sea turtle as one of its stories. All of the species in the report were nominated by Coalition member groups, such as STC. A panel of distinguished scientists then reviewed the nominations and decided which species to include in the report. STC Executive Director David Godfrey played a major role in the nomination and inclusion of the green turtle in the report.

Photo by Julie Suess

Photo by Julie Suess

The report highlights ten species that – thanks to the Endangered Species Act’s protections – are either steadily improving or have been recovered and removed from the list of imperiled species. Along with the green sea turtle, they include the nene goose, American peregrine falcon, El Segundo blue butterfly, Robbins’ cinquefoil, bald eagle, southern sea otter, humpback whale, American alligator, and brown pelican.

Below is some of the information about green turtles that was included in the report, written in part by Godfrey:

Back From the Brink - green turtleSafeguarded by the Endangered Species Act since 1978, green sea turtle populations along U.S. coasts are protected in the oceans by NOAA Fisheries and in their beach nesting habitats by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Many other countries have established laws to preserve these turtles, and the species is protected globally by both the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Indeed, the green sea turtle is one of the most defended species in the world.

Unintentional capture—particularly by the shrimp fishing industry—is one of the turtle’s most significant threats. Since 1992, NOAA has required all shrimp trawls in U.S. waters to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs), which greatly reduce the number of turtles ensnared in nets. The U.S. government also works with foreign governments to encourage the use of TEDs in trawl fisheries outside the U.S.

The USFWS recovery programs attempt to restore the turtle’s nesting grounds by limiting the impact of development, establishing federal refuges for turtles and reducing the impact of artificial light on nesting beaches. This last measure protects hatchlings, which can easily become disoriented by artificial lights when they emerge from their nests at night.

By listing this turtle under the Endangered Species Act, the United States took a bold stance, and the turtles are responding. In 1990, fewer than fifty green turtles were documented nesting at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast. After twenty-three years of conservation efforts by STC, federal and local agencies, and other partner organizations, this 20-mile stretch of beach hosted over 13,000 green turtle nests in 2013—making this one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time.

STC has been an active supporter and advocate for the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge since the idea was first conceived over 25 years ago. The organization played a significant role in establishing the refuge in 1989, and STC was a founding member of the Archie Carr Working Group, a coalition of public and private entities set up to expand, protect, manage and promote the Refuge. STC continues to help secure funds for land acquisition and management, and directly coordinates a number of habitat improvement programs in the Carr Refuge, including dune restoration projects, beach clean ups and a program that helps beachfront residents convert their lights to the latest turtle-friendly technology. STC’s annual migration tracking studies of turtles in the refuge are yielding important information about what these turtles do when they leave the Refuge, which helps direct conservation and recovery efforts.

Green turtle hatchling by Kevin Geraghty

Green turtle hatchling by Kevin Geraghty

The kind of growth that is being seen in the Carr Refuge is also taking place in other locations where green sea turtles are actively protected, which gives us good reason to be hopeful. Through collaborative efforts of organizations and governments—both here at home and throughout the world—there is bright promise that this remarkable species may make an equally remarkable comeback.

Click here to download a PDF version of the full report. The Endangered Species Coalition also produced a slide show to accompany the report, featuring stunning photos of each of the ten species in the report. The Coalition produces a “Top 10” report annually. Previous years’ reports are available here. For more information on the Endangered Species Act, click here.

Tour de Turtles 2013: A Full Recap

This year, Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Tour de Turtles tracked 13 sea turtles representing five species from five different locations: Florida, Tortuguero, Panama, Nevis, and Bermuda.

Distance Winner Calypso Blue II

Distance Winner Calypso Blue II

Calypso Blue II, a giant female leatherback from Panama, finished in first place in STC’s 6th annual Tour de Turtles Migration Marathon. She was sponsored by Atlantis Paradise Island and swam 2,836 miles in 97 days. She led the race almost the entire duration, and finished more than 800 miles ahead of the second place turtle, Panama Jackie. Fun fact: Calypso Blue II and Panama Jackie were both released from STC’s brand-new research site in Soropta Beach, Panama!

Rounding out the top three was a female loggerhead from Florida named Johnny, sponsored by John’s Island Real Estate Company. Johnny wasted no time heading straight south for the winter, and looks to be spending the holidays near Cuba. We’ve heard it’s nice there this time of year! The race for third place was a definite nail biter, as Johnny just barely edged out fellow loggerhead Carrie (sponsored by Disney’s Animal Programs and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort) in the last few weeks of the race. Johnny ended up finishing only 107 miles ahead of Carrie, who had to settle for fourth place.

causes winnerNot to be outdone, Carrie crushed the competition in the separate Causes Challenge, raising $1,500 for her cause of Light Pollution, and earning the title of Causes Challenge Winner. Fun fact: In a Tour de Turtles first, Carrie came back to Vero Beach to nest AGAIN, only two weeks after her original nesting. We know that the females will lay several clutches each season, but we have never documented a TdT loggerhead returning to nest after the start of Tour de Turtles! Good thing Carrie has read all those papers on turtles – she laid her eggs EXACTLY 14 days later. Her second nest was even within 1/2 mile of where she laid her original nest. Our friends with Disney’s Animal Programs also reported that Carrie’s first nest had 161 hatchlings– the largest loggerhead nest they’ve seen this year!

Other honorable mentions in the Causes Challenge also include Florida loggerheads Ripley (5th place) sponsored by Ripley’s Aquariums, who raised $1,100 for Water Quality and Claire (6th place) sponsored by Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund who raised $900 for Plastic Debris. Those loggerheads sure know how to work a crowd! Speaking of loggerheads, it looks like all of our loggerhead competitors are currently hanging out together in the Atlantic ocean not far from Cuba and the Bahamas. Wonder if they’re having a Tour de Turtles party?!

In 7th place was Mora, a green sea turtle released from Tortuguero, Costa Rica, who was named after Jairo Mora Sandoval, a Costa Rican biologist who was tragically killed in May while monitoring a sea turtle nesting beach south of Tortuguero. Some of you might recognize turtle Mora from the July page of our new 2014 Sea Turtle Scenes calendar. She’s become quite the celebrity since making her debut appearance in Tour de Turtles!


In 8th place we had Cruz (sponsored by Shark Reef Aquarium), a green sea turtle released from Tortuguero, who was named after Guillermo “Billy” Cruz, STC’s first Vice President and recipient of the Archie Carr Lifetime Achievement Award, who passed away this summer. Cruz took her time “cruz-ing” along the coastlines of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, traveling 103 miles north of her release spot.

Did you know that both Mora and Cruz both have some amazing photos and videos on our Tour de Turtles website? They were taken by our Tortuguero Field Coordinator Ralph Pace!

caribelle nevis

Caribelle. (Photo by Four Seasons Resort Nevis)

Hawksbill turtles Banjo (9th place) and Caribelle (10th place) didn’t stray too far from their original release site near their sponsors at the Four Seasons Resort in Nevis. Caribelle only swam about 235 miles while it looks like Banjo spent her time island hopping in the Caribbean, swimming around St. Kitts, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Who can blame her! You can click here to watch a cool video from Banjo’s release.

Even though Tampa Red (sponsored by the Tampa Bay Green Consortium) came in 11th place in the race, her story is full of firsts! She was the first Kemp’s ridley and first rehab turtle to ever compete in TdT. She was rescued by the Florida Aquarium in March when she suffered from buoyancy issues caused by a red tide bloom. Red tide is an algal bloom that produces toxins which can be harmful to sea turtles, fish, birds, and other marine animals. After being rehabilitated, she was released from Bunche Beach, making her the first TdT competitor to be released on the West coast of Florida!

While it appears that juvenile green turtle Relay (sponsored by Turtle & Hughes, Inc.) came in last place in the race, he/she was actually participating in not one, but TWO marathon events! Relay came in first place as part of the Tour de Turtles Bermuda: Race on the Rock!The Bermuda competitor earning second place was juvenile green turtle Venti Anni (sponsored by RenaissanceRe). This was the second year STC held the Tour de Turtles Bermuda, an offshoot of the Bermuda Turtle Project, the world’s longest running in-water study of Bermuda’s turtles, conducted in partnership between STC and the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo.

STC would like to thank everyone who made the 2013 Tour de Turtles a great success. Nearly 5,000 people attended sea turtle releases in Florida, Costa Rica, Panama and Nevis. In addition, more than 9,600 people from 119 countries logged on to the Tour de Turtles website in just three months. We hope everyone enjoyed following these 13 turtles on their marathon migration adventures!

We’d also like to give a big thank to all of our wonderful sponsors: – Four Seasons Resort Nevis – Disney’s Animal Programs – Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund – Disney’s Vero Beach Resort – Atlantis Paradise Island – Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay – Ripley’s Aquariums – Tampa Bay Green Consortium – John’s Island Real Estate Company – Turtle & Hughes, Inc. – Sea Turtle Grants Program – Community Foundation for BrevardRockwell Collins – Boeing N.O.A.A. Florida D.E.P. – RenaissanceRe Bermuda Department of Conservation Services – Bermuda Zoological Society – Bermuda Turtle Project – Atlantic Conservation Partnership.

florida release

STC Receives Major Grant for Gulf Lighting Project

On November 14, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced that Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) had been awarded a major grant to support our efforts to address impacts to wildlife from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This significant grant awards STC $1.5 million for a two-year project addressing coastal lighting problems in the Florida Panhandle. Out of the hundreds of project proposals submitted for work in the state of Florida, only six were selected for funding in this first series of grants. This award will allow STC to significantly expand our successful lighting work, which is being overseen by STC’s Lighting Specialist Karen Shudes.

Condo BEFORE being retrofitted with sea turtle-friendly lighting

Condo BEFORE being retrofitted

Since STC began conducting lighting retrofit projects in 2010, problem lights at over 80 coastal properties throughout Florida have been retrofitted with sea turtle friendly lighting, helping to restore darkness to over 10.5 miles of prime sea turtle nesting habitat, and saving an estimated 16,000 hatchlings that otherwise would have been disoriented by lights. These results, combined with the financial benefits associated with using energy-efficient LEDs, make this project replicable in other coastal communities where poorly managed artificial lighting degrades nesting habitat.


Condo AFTER being retrofitted with sea turtle-friendly lighting.

Condo AFTER being retrofitted with sea turtle-friendly lighting.

This new project will greatly increase sea turtle hatchling survivorship on Florida Panhandle nesting beaches by correcting problematic lights on private properties with a history of sea turtle disorientations. The project will target problem lights adjacent to existing dark areas in order to improve contiguous stretches of beach rather than small pockets of habitat. Willing property owners will be identified and complete retrofits of beachfront lights that impact the nesting beach.

Florida hosts over 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the continental United States, including the largest population of loggerheads in the Western Hemisphere and regionally significant nesting populations of green turtles, leatherbacks and Kemp’s ridleys.

As coastal development continues around the state, the problem of beachfront lighting continues to hamper sea turtle recovery efforts. Each year tens of thousands of nesting females and hatchlings are negatively impacted by artificial beachfront lights, with thousands never making it to the sea to help recover these diminished populations, which were particularly impacted by the Gulf oil spill in 2010. While significant funds have been allocated to reduce light pollution on public property, comparatively little funding has been available to bring privately-owned lights into compliance. The counties of the Panhandle of Florida that are targeted in this proposal are part of the Northern Gulf Coast Recovery Unit for loggerhead turtles, which is the nesting assemblage most at risk for this population and whose beaches had the most direct impacts from the spill.

For more background information on STC’s lighting initiatives, you can read our 2011 Velador article, “Addressing Florida’s Beachfront Lighting Problem.” To learn more about STC’s successful lighting work, check out our video, “Darker Beaches, Brighter Future,” which was created to accompany our traveling lighting displays.



What’s Happening to the Indian River Lagoon? An Update from STC


Map of Indian River Lagoon

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is committed to protecting the natural habitats upon which sea turtles depend, while also recognizing the interconnectedness of all habitats and the role they play in our ecosystem. Many species of plants and animals make their home in the coastal and estuarine waters of Florida. Coastal economies are dependent on these natural resources, Floridians take great pride in these waters and tourists from all over the world come to visit them. But one of these bodies of water is in serious trouble.

The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) spans 150 miles along Florida’s Atlantic Coast from the Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County. It is an estuary, a body of water where freshwater mixes with ocean saltwater. This waterway is one of the most biologically diverse estuarine systems in the United States, home to more than 4,300 different species of plants and animals—including 35 that are threatened or endangered.

Over the past year, a record number of dolphins, manatees and pelicans have turned up dead in this waterway. Scientists have seen large amounts of algae blooms in the waterway, some of them toxic, and there is a clear imbalance in the ecosystem. Almost 47,000 acres of vital lagoon sea grass have died from algae blooms since 2011. Biologists liken this trend to a rain forest dying. In some areas, the water has turned from clear blues and greens to a coffee-colored dark brown and people have been advised to stay out of the water. While people have this choice, the wildlife does not.

Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

Although the exact cause of the Lagoon’s problems is unknown, there are a few possible culprits. To prevent Lake Okeechobee from overflowing or compromising the dike around the lake, water from the lake is released into a canal that drains into the IRL. Water from Lake Okeechobee carries high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus which could be causing algae blooms. Inadequate sewage treatment, street runoff and effluent from septic tanks in the area could also be affecting the water. There are approximately 237,000 septic tanks in just three of the counties that sit on the Lagoon.

So far, scientists have not identified any direct effect on sea turtles that occupy the Lagoon, but STC is closely monitoring the situation. Sea turtles of various age classes utilize the Lagoon for foraging and as a developmental habitat. Ecosystems such as the IRL are complicated and overall health is determined by many interacting variables. Educating the public and elected officials about this crisis is imperative for the recovery and long-term survival of the IRL.


Recently on National Estuaries Day, STC partnered with the Barrier Island Sanctuary Management and Education Center (BIC) in “Hands Across the Lagoon,” an event to help bring attention to the estuary’s fragile state. People in all five neighboring counties located on the Lagoon were asked to stand up for its protection and restoration. Thousands came out and held hands across bridges over the Lagoon showing their support. Click here to watch a cool video about the event! Following the event, participants were invited to the BIC for environmental education activities to learn more about our country’s most diverse estuary.

Hands Across the Lagoon on Wabasso Causeway

Hands Across the Lagoon on Wabasso Causeway

While small steps have been made toward improving the health of the Lagoon, we encourage everyone to get involved in the process. The first place to start is to know what is happening. Check out these upcoming events to learn more about the crisis:

The Brevard County Board of County Commission is holding a workshop to find solutions to the current IRL issue on Thursday, October 17th at 6:00 p.m. at the Ted Moorhead Lagoon House in Palm Bay. CLICK HERE to see the agenda and speakers for the workshop.

The Brevard Naturalist Program is holding an information session on November 2 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Cocoa Beach Public Library, followed by a paddling trip to the Thousand Islands. CLICK HERE for more info or register for the event HERE.

STC at the BIC is hosting a special stewardship workshop, “Recipes to Save the Indian River Lagoon” on Saturday, November 16th. The workshop includes guest expert speakers sharing what has been happening to life in the IRL and how we can help restore it, a spoil island marine debris clean up, and a shoreline restoration mangrove planting. See this flyer for more info and how to sign up!

Other Resources:


Sea Turtle Grants Program Supports Lighting Education and Satellite-Tracking Research

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has received three grants awarded by Florida’s Sea Turtle Grants Program to support sea turtle-friendly lighting education and loggerhead migratory research.

Two of the grants focus on educating coastal residents in Florida about the impacts of beachfront lights to nesting females and sea turtle hatchlings and offering options for converting existing lights to amber LED fixtures that minimize impacts to sea turtles.

“It is important for people to see turtle-friendly lighting first-hand,” STC’s lighting specialist Karen Shudes said. “There are several myths about sea turtle-friendly lighting not being safe enough or bright enough, but these are simply not true.”

Artificial lights are a major threat to nesting sea turtles and hatchlings because 78% of Florida’s housing is located in coastal communities. These grants will help STC educate the public on the importance of making sure beachfront homes have the right type of lights to ensure safety for people and sea turtles.

The third grant is studying the migratory routes and foraging grounds used by loggerhead turtles from the Archie Carr Refuge in Melbourne Beach. The goal is to reveal important information about the turtles’ migratory behavior, foraging grounds, and the areas of potential conflict with commercial fisheries or legal harvest of sea turtles.

Currently, there are four turtles being tracked in this research study. Two turtles went to areas that STC had not observed before in the waters off Florida’s Panhandle and to the Yucatan Peninsula.

These grants are supporting critical programs that are increasing knowledge about sea turtles and providing solutions to ensure their survival. The grants were made possible by the sale of the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, which funds Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Program and the Sea Turtle Grants Program. To learn more, visit

Loggerhead Belle Returns to Nest

Satellite-tracked turtle returns to nest again
by Ludi Lellis, Orlando Sentinel on May, 23 2011

About three years ago, she crawled off a Brevard County beach, a satellite tag glued to her back so that turtle fans could track her. Now, the loggerhead sea turtle has returned to Central Florida, back again at our beaches to nest again.

The return of the Belle O’Brevard, as she was named, has thrilled turtle researchers, who have learned much through satellite tagging of the sea-faring reptiles.

“Usually the transmitters don’t last long enough but on this turtle, we’ve been able to track her for three years,” said Rocio Johnson, with the Sea Turtle Conservancy in Gainesville.

The Belle O’Brevard was so named as part of a contest during the 2008 Tour de Turtles, an annual event hosted by the Sea Turtle Conservancy in which several turtles are fitted with satellite tags and then tracked for a marathon distance of 2,620 kilometers.

In 2008, this particular turtle, then weighing 350 pounds, had come ashore at the Archie Carr Refuge near Melbourne Beach to dig a nest but before she could return to sea, a fist-sized satellite transmitter was glued to her shell.

The transmitter has stuck, sending a satellite signal every three days. Her favorite migration path is between the Carolinas and Maryland, where she is apparently following the horseshoe migration season. You can see her migration map at this website.

She headed south to Florida a few weeks back and has been staying close to the Brevard coast. Turtles normally return to the beach where they first hatched to lay their own eggs and loggerheads are known to lay eggs about every two to three years. So it would seem that her biological clock is due for another round of nests.

Johnson noted, though, that no one has confirmed a nest, because no one has yet caught up with her at a beach during the nocturnal egg-laying.

On behalf of STC, thanks for continuing to cover sea turtles, Ludi!

URGENT! Your Calls are Needed to Stop a Monster Environmental Bill!

Florida sea turtle supporters:

We are passing this alert from 1000 Friends of Florida on to our friends and supporters and recommend you take action as soon as possible. As many of you know, the Florida legislature is focused on cutting the budgets of state regulatory agencies and their environmental programs, streamlining or eliminating environmental regulations, and essentially gutting the growth management laws that have been in existence for decades.

As the legislative session winds down there are many bills that will reduce or eliminate environmental protections for surface and marine waters, wetlands, coastal habitats, sea grass beds, and wildlife. The alert below addresses two of the worst bills working their way through the legislature and what you can do to reduce the potential harm to Florida’s rich environment.

Sea Turtle Conservancy has been actively involved in this legislation and working with its partners in the environmental community to make this legislation better. We have offered amendments to improve these bills in ways that would ensure protection for sea turtle nesting beaches. Unfortunately it has been a difficult uphill battle. We are now asking for your help. The issues and the bills are complicated. Please read the alert below and take action:

While the schedule has not yet been released, the Senate Budget Committee is expected to pass the growth management bill, SB 1122, on Thursday, April 28. SB 1122 will then be ready for a floor vote by the full Senate sometime next week.

Representatives of Florida’s leading planning and conservation organizations, including 1000 Friends of Florida, Audubon of Florida, the Everglades Foundation, Florida Wildlife Federation, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, and The Nature Conservancy, have been consulting with key Senate leadership on growth management and have come to the conclusion that sweeping growth management legislation will pass this session despite strenuous objections. While it has many flaws, SB 1122 is clearly preferable to the House companion bill, HB 1729.

We are asking you to call your Senator as soon as possible to prevent damaging changes to SB 1122 when it comes up for a vote by the full Senate next week. Click here to find your Senator. Please ask your Senator to:

(1) Keep intact the existing SB 1122 language on the expedited review/alternative review process. The Senate version provides for fairer citizen challenge standards on plan amendments, and gives smaller local governments the option of keeping the current and more comprehensive plan amendment process; and

(2) Not allow “developer giveaways” on large scale projects (known as DRIs) to be amended on to SB 1122. These damaging amendments would allow a 150 percent increase in the size of projects that would be exempted from the state DRI review process, a 100 percent increase in the allowance for large scale changes to DRIs that do not require additional DRI review, and outright exemptions from the DRI process for MINING, INDUSTRIAL, and HOTEL/MOTEL projects.

Stop a Monster Environmental Bill:

HB 991 by Rep. Jimmy Patronis includes a series of special interest changes to 34 different environmental laws undermining citizen protection rights from polluters. It would limit local regulation of mining operations, allow groundwater contamination from landfills, and increase development provisions in wetlands. More information will be released at a 10:30 a.m. press conference called by The Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Audubon of Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida. Conservation groups are calling on Senators to resist efforts to amend this bill’s bad provisions on to other proposed legislation.

While you are calling your Senator about halting the damaging growth management provisions outlined above, please also ask your Senator to not amend the harmful provisions from HB 991 onto other bills. Please also contact your Representative to oppose HB 991. To find your Representative, please click here and then click on the “Find Your Representative” icon.

Before and After: Condo Reduces Light Impact

Since the oil spill, STC has doubled its efforts to reduce threats to sea turtles in Florida.

STC is traveling the state in search of problematic beachfront lights and working with residents, business owners and local sea turtle groups to install sea turtle-friendly lighting.

Supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the program is reducing the negative impacts of lighting on sea turtles and hatchlings during nesting season.

Check out a before-and-after shot of this condo from the beach.

Before Window Tinting

After Window Tinting

Veto Override May Spell Trouble for Turtles

To many in Florida’s environmental community, the hastily called legislative Special Session in Tallahassee on November 16 was a warning shot across the bow. If all the rhetoric from legislators turns into action, the next few years spell trouble for Florida’s environment.

After the Nov 2. elections, the Florida legislature wasted no time in overriding the Governor’s veto of one of the worst environmental bills in years. House Bill 1565, passed last year by the legislature but vetoed by the governor, would bring state rulemaking—environmental and otherwise—to a grinding halt.

HB 1565 requires expensive economic analyses on any state agency rules, and requires any rules with more than a minimal estimated economic impact ($200,000 a year for 5 years) to return to the Legislature for ratification. Adding insult to injury, the bill was offered last year late in the legislative session with almost no public debate. In the days prior to the Special Session, conservationists, business owners and local government leaders urged legislators not to overturn Governor Crist’s veto. Those pleas were ignored.

Several legislators from both parties eloquently objected to the veto in floor debate. In the final vote a very small handful of legislators voted nay but, both houses overwhelmingly voted to override Crist’s veto, making this new law effective immediately.

In a follow up article in the Tallahassee Democrat, both sides offered comments on what this vote means. “This is literally across the board. This would change the way government operates,” said Frank Matthews, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist for the Association of Florida Community Developers.

Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper stated, “From the public health and safety standpoint, this is the worst possible thing they could come up with. This may be what they want to do, just shut down government altogether.”

Crist justified his veto last year by saying this would result in a power grab by the legislature of executive authority over state agencies. Florida’s environmental agencies in responding to the bill, reported that almost all agency rules concerning environmental, growth management, water management and related issues will “trip the threshold” requiring approval from the legislature. The veto override was expected by this new legislature. Its anti-government regulation philosophy is closely aligned with the sentiments repeatedly expressed by the new Governor-elect.

I do not know how this will impact beach and turtle protection. But it could potentially impact everything from sea wall permitting to lighting ordinances. It will certainly have a chilling effect on issuing any future environmental regulations. Before DEP can issue a new regulation on anything, lets say beach raking to protect nesting, the agency would have to conduct an economic analysis. If the cost to implement the new regulation is over 200k statewide (remember this is a very large state so almost any rule could cost at least this much to implement) then the regulation would have to go to the legislature for hearings, analysis and approval. This will likely open up agency rule making to extensive special interest lobbying, delaying ratification for years.

The legislature has effectively taken executive branch authority for rule making away from the governor and state agencies and placed it in the hands of what some consider the most conservative legislature since reconstruction.

Gary Appelson
Policy Coordinator

Protecting Florida’s Beaches – A Policy Update

The recent Deepwater Horizon disaster has focused attention on the value and importance of beaches to local economies, the quality of life, and as wildlife habitat. It has also ignited a discussion on whether to permanently ban oil drilling in Florida waters. Florida statutory laws prohibit nearshore drilling (within 10 miles on the Gulf coast and within 3 miles on the Atlantic coast), but state laws can easily be changed. Indeed, the Florida legislature had been working diligently to do away with this statutory ban and only recently abandoned this effort as the Deepwater Horizon continued to gush crude. Consequently, many policy makers and Floridians have been pushing for a more permanent “constitutional ban” that could only be changed by the voters and could not be overturned by the pro-drilling Florida legislature. Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has steadfastly opposed the legislature’s efforts to allow drilling while also advocating for a more permanent constitutional ban.

In early July, Governor Charlie Crist called for a legislative special session for the purpose of placing a constitutional amendment to ban drilling onto the November ballot. In an effort to gauge public support and hopefully convince legislators to support the governor, STC and four other Florida conservation groups conducted a survey of likely Florida voters. The survey results, released on July 19, just before the Governor’s special session, found that a majority of Floridians now oppose drilling in Florida’s near shore waters and a whopping 71% of Florida voters would like the opportunity to vote on a constitutional ban. A press conference was held in Tallahassee announcing the poll’s results.

The Special Session was called to order on July 20th. It lasted just 29 minutes, with the legislature ignoring the Governor’s efforts by adjourning without any hearings or votes on placing a constitutional ban on the ballot. Several conservation groups are now initiating a statewide citizen petition drive to place the constitutional amendment on the ballot. The STC will be strongly supporting this effort.

In other beach related news, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on June 17 upholding Florida’s beach restoration program. This very complicated case was initiated in 2004 when some beachfront property owners in the Florida Panhandle sued to stop the state from rebuilding their eroded beaches. When a “critically eroded” Florida beach is rebuilt, the new sand is considered to be public property. Since this new sand is placed between the old high tide line and the water, the beach front property owner’s property no longer touches the water and the new public sand effectively moves the high tide line further seaward. In a very simplified summation: property owners sued claiming the renourishment project resulted in a taking without compensation of their “riparian” rights to have their land touch the water. The case was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court in 2007 and eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the state’s beach nourishment program did not constitute a taking of private property without just compensation in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Had the property owners prevailed, Floridians would have had to pay first for the sand and then also for the right to place sand on a beach to protect the upland development. This could have effectively killed the state’s beach restoration program.

STC is involved in a myriad of issues addressing the long-term protection of Florida’s beaches. Beach management and protection is very complicated and attempts to balance environmental needs, public recreation, tourism, and protection of upland property. It is our mission to ensure the long term protection and health of Florida’s sea turtle nesting beaches and associated nearshore marine habitats.