**UPDATE: CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED! WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED LATER THIS MONTH!**
July 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Sea Turtle Weekend at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, West Indies. To celebrate, STC and the Four Seasons are welcoming turtle lovers to join the Sea Turtle Art Contest!
For a chance to win a three-night stay at the Resort, artists and conservationists are invited to submit an original artistic design depicting sea turtles through the Resort’s Facebook page.
One design will be selected based on creativity, turtle imagery and simplicity, and the winner, along with a guest, will be flown to Nevis to partake in Four Seasons Resort Nevis’ Sea Turtle Weekend, July 15-18, 2016. Along with a weekend-long, sea turtle-themed program, you also will help scientists track, catch, tag and release these majestic creatures. The winning design will also be placed on T-shirts, and all profits will go to the Sea Turtle Conservancy to continue to raise awareness for the protection and education of sea turtles.
The deadline to enter is March 31st. Entries will be judged on creativity, turtle imagery, and simplicity. For more details, and to enter, use this link: http://shout.lt/bsNMd
For questions about the contest, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
**UPDATE: CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED! WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED LATER THIS MONTH!**
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!
Since 2000, when Sea Turtle Conservancy waged a successful campaign to block a proposal by the Cuban government to reopen international trade of sea turtle products, STC has been trying to build collaborative relationships with Cuban sea turtle researchers. For example, STC facilitated the participation of two Cuban biologists in the International Sea Turtle Symposium. We included several young Cuban biologists as turtle Research Assistants in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, where they gained valuable field experience. And in Bermuda, a biology student from Cuba was sponsored to participate in a course offered by STC and our partners that teaches in-water techniques for studying sea turtles. Despite these efforts to build relations in Cuba, STC’s ability to directly participation in turtle research or conservation in Cuba has been stymied by longstanding restrictions against American travel to the country…until now.
As widely reported in the news, President Obama recently took steps to improve diplomatic relations with Cuba. The U.S. Embassy in Havana has reopened, and the State Department announced new guidelines making it easier for American citizens to travel to Cuba by participating in authorized “People to People” programs. Immediately following this announcement, STC partnered with the Ocean Foundation and Holbrook Travel to organize a turtle research and cultural exchange expedition to Cuba that would meet the new qualifications and allow STC to explore opportunities for collaborating with sea turtle researchers in one of Cuba’s most pristine national parks. Once our trip was approved by the State Department, STC officially opened registration to members and supporters, and all 20 spaces were filled rapidly.
STC’s first expedition to Cuba took place over eight days in September. Leading the expedition were STC Executive Director David Godfrey and Scientific Director Dr. Emma Harrison. Also participating in the trip were an enthusiastic mix of STC donors, Florida turtle volunteers, scuba divers from around the US and even the UK, an architect, and even a turtle conservationist from Hawaii. During our journey through Cuba we interacted with the amazing and friendly people of Cuba; discovered a diverse and rapidly-changing culture; explored pristine natural resources; marveled at cities, cars and architecture preserved for a generation; learned about an explosion of urban-based organic farming; and, of course, observed a unique population of sea turtles nesting on Cuba’s far western shore. To say the trip was amazing is an understatement; it was unforgettable.
Cuba hosts regionally-important nesting populations of hawksbills and green turtles. In addition, many nesting beaches and marine habitats around Cuba are in near-pristine condition and are ripe for long-term sea turtle research and recovery. During the course of the expedition, STC forged a strong new relationship with Cuban biologist Dr. Julia Azanza, who leads the turtle research project at Guanahacabibes National Park. Based on our interactions with Dr. Azanza, STC hopes to achieve a new era of support for sea turtle conservation in Cuba. Plans already are in the works for a return trip in 2016, when we hope to assist in the deployment of satellite transmitters on several nesting green turtles. Anyone interested in joining the 2016 expedition should contact David Godfrey at email@example.com to inquire about reserving a spot. Like this year’s expedition, spaces will fill up quickly.
Cuba Expedition Travel Journal by Dr. Emma Harrison
STC was met at the Havana airport by a dedicated local guide and bus driver, who remained with our group throughout the 8-day expedition. Our assigned guide was the lovely and knowledgeable local guide, Susana Rodriguez, who STC hopes to book for future visits. For the first couple of nights our base was the iconic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which overlooks the ‘Malacón’ – the iconic waterfront walkway that is a popular hangout for local residents. Our diverse program of activities commenced with a guided tour of an organic farm, where we learned about sustainable urban agricultural that is blossoming in suburbs of Havana and other cities around Cuba. Lunch on our first full day was at a family-run ‘paladar’ in Cojima and included a variety of traditional dishes, Cuban coffee, of course, and mojitos! Most businesses in Cuba are owned and operated by the government. However, over the last year restrictions have eased in the operation of private restaurants, or “paladars,” which tend to have a much higher variety and quality of food.
The main reason for STC’s trip was to visit and provide assistance to the sea turtle project run by Cuban biologist Dr. Julia Azanza, with the long-term goal of developing a partnership through which STC can support sea turtle research and recovery in Cuba. Dr. Azansa joined our group in Havana to give a thorough presentation about her work and the current status of turtle conservation in Cuba.
After our brief exploration of Havana we boarded our bus and began a rather eventful journey to Guanahacabibes National Park in the westernmost part of the island. Less than half way to our destination we unfortunately blew a tire, and had to creep slowly several miles to the Cuban equivalent of a rest area. We only had to wait an hour or so before a replacement bus picked us up and we were able to finish the remainder of our journey. Our trusty bus driver, Juan Carlos, however, had to wait another 5 hours before he was able to fix the tire and make his way to the hotel with our assigned bus.
The following morning we got our first look at the nesting beach in Guanahacabibes, which resembled a lunar landscape due to all of the deep body pits characteristic of the green turtles—the main species nesting in this part of Cuba. Dr. Azanza introduced us to the student volunteers who live in rustic conditions (in tents, with no electricity or running water!) for several weeks at a time while they conduct track surveys and night patrols to collect valuable scientific data for the p about the green turtles nesting at this site. We learned that a green turtle nest had hatched the previous night and were able to participate in a nest excavation to assess hatching success. Fortunately, the majority of hatchlings had made it safely from the nest to the ocean.
Cuba’s marine environment is very pristine, as we witnessed first-hand during snorkel trips to coral reefs that were just offshore from our hotel in Maria la Gorda. While we didn’t happen to see any turtles while in the water, we did enjoy crystal clear blue water, beautiful reefs and a fantastic diversity of fish species.
During our evenings of turtle patrolling we were fortunate enough to encounter a green turtle that came ashore to lay her eggs during the two nights we were on the beach. We also had the great fortune of observing the emergence of a nest of green turtle hatchlings! For some in our group this was the first time that they had seen either baby turtles or a nesting female, and to have that first up-close and personal experience on a remote beach in a Cuban National Park made it all the more memorable for everyone, even for those of us who have seen it innumerable times before.
Among the other highlights of our trip was a visit to a tobacco farmer in the agricultural region of Viñales—a dramatic and lush valley in Cuba’s interior that produces tobacco for some of Cuba’s most famous cigar brands. Sitting in the farmer’s kitchen and watching him expertly roll a cigar using tobacco grown in the surrounding fields was another unique experience. Most in the group could not pass up the opportunity to sample a hand-rolled Cuban cigar made directly at the source.
An unexpected change of hotel meant that we got to spend a night in Pinar del Río, on the very day when the region was celebrating its 128th anniversary! Our unplanned change in itinerary turned into an amazing opportunity to watch a street parade and meet numerous local characters who were thrilled to find a group of American’s staying in their village. In fact, it was common throughout our travels around Cuba to encounter people who were genuinely overjoyed to meet Americans. To a person, everyone we met in Cuba was incredibly friendly and helpful.
The days passed quickly and all too soon we found ourselves heading back to Havana for our last night in Cuba, but not before one last whirlwind of cultural experiences. The STC group spent half a day exploring Ernest Hemingway’s farm, Finca La Vigia, which has been miraculously preserved by the Cuban people and is still filled with Hemingway’s personal possessions, clothes, artwork, book, and even his famed boat “Pilar.” Later that night our group was taken to see the famous Opera de la Calle, a talented company of Cuban singers, dancers and musicians that treated STC to a private performance none in our group will ever forget.
Of course, no trip to Cuba would be complete without a little drama, and ours came in the form of multiple power outages as we were waiting in line to go through immigration to leave the country. Each time the power went out the computer system had to be reset, eating up valuable time when we should have all been heading to the gate! Gradually, at less than a turtle’s pace, each member of our group managed to make it through and we all boarded the plane, with just minutes to spare before takeoff. Of course, we learned later that this is a common occurrence and the American Airlines flight crew knows to wait for all passengers to clear security during such delays.
This was definitely a memorable trip for everyone, and one that STC will be repeating in the future. We are excited about the possibility of forging a collaborative relationship with sea turtle conservationists in Cuba, to give our members an opportunity to visit this incredible country and support a local project working to protect the region’s turtle populations!
Plastics have become a staple of modern societies across the globe. In 2012, nearly 300 million tons of new plastic items were produced. Each day, these and other plastic articles are sold, used, and disposed. However, an alarming amount of these plastics do not stay on land. Through improper disposal or direct dumping, millions of tons of plastic now call our ocean home.
According to recent studies, including a paper in the prestigious journal Science, we are facing a dire future:
As organizations committed to ocean and human health, the mounting body of science makes us increasingly concerned about the growing tide of plastics entering the ocean and its negative impacts on marine wildlife and habitats.
We’re calling on industry to work with us to stop plastic from entering the ocean.
The signees of this letter represent a diverse array of NGO stakeholders from around the world asking industry and fellow NGOs to stand by us to help stop plastics from entering the ocean. By working together, we can develop innovative solutions, including integrated waste management, at a global scale that will reduce plastic leakage from land and keep our ocean and communities vibrant and healthy.
Please join us.
Learn more at http://www.plasticpreventionletter.org/
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.
For the first time ever, STC is partnering with the Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program, The Ocean Foundation and Holbrook Travel to offer a Sea Turtle and Cultural Expedition to Cuba from September 4th-12th, 2015. Deadline to sign up in July 1st!
Participants will visit Havana, the Guanahacabibes Peninsula and Vinales over the course of the expedition. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE OFFICIAL ITINERARY.
Participants will have the opportunity to look for turtles coming ashore on the beaches of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula and observe the nesting process.
The group will return to a turtle nesting beach the following day to document any tracks from the previous night.
Hours later, participants will return to the turtle beach where they will have the opportunity to help the researchers measure the turtles and record data.
The Center for Marine Research has hosted similar trips in the last couple of years, but this is the first time this experience will be made available to U.S. Citizens without special permits following the change in Cuban-American policy announced by President Obama and the State Department earlier this year. Both STC and Center for Marine Research experts will host the expedition.
The beaches of the Guanahacabibes National Park are home to the second largest breeding population of green sea turtles in Cuba with an average of more than 300 nests per season.
2013 was a record year for the park’s beaches with nearly 900 nests recorded!
Through the efforts of University of Havana’s Center for Marine Investigations, an estimated 14,000 hatchlings were saved. You will get to participate directly in this successful Cuban conservation program, with a portion of your trip fees going directly to support this ongoing work.
Cost includes gratuities, Miami/Tampa hotel and donations to the Cuban Society for the Protection of the Environment and Sea Turtle Conservancy.
Cost does not include international airfare estimated at $600 from Miami or Tampa (estimate includes visa fee).
The tenth annual national Endangered Species Day is May 15, 2015! Endangered Species Day was created by Congress in 2006 and is a day to raise awareness of the many endangered, threatened and at-risk species and the critical role they play.
Many zoos, parks, gardens, wildlife refuges, museums, schools and community centers, among other participants, will host educational events to further promote and celebrate Endangered Species Day and the reasoning behind its creation. To find an event near you, visit endangeredspeciesday.org.
If you’re in the Melbourne Beach area, come to our Endangered Species Day Event at the Barrier Island Center on Saturday, May 16th! See image above for details.
Endangered Species Day is a great platform for highlighting the success of some species in recovering from being endangered. Many species, including the green sea turtle, are considered success stores because of the significant strides they have made toward recovery as a result of policy implementations and other actions designed to protect them.
All sea turtles in U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act, which was created in 1978. The act grants green sea turtles protection by the NOAA Fisheries in the ocean and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) in their beach nesting habitats along U.S. coasts.
During the nesting season of 1990, fewer than 50 green sea turtles were documented at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast. During the nesting season of 2003, 13,000 nests were recorded on the same beaches. This comeback makes green sea turtles one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time. The species’ success can be attributed to the Endangered Species Act, STC and all other supporters who worked tirelessly to give green sea turtles a fighting chance.
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 by providing educational materials and uses sea turtle migration tracking as an online educational tool.
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.
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 http://www.beyondpesticides.org.
6. Slow down when driving and/or boating
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! Avoid single-use plastic such as water bottles, plastic bags, etc. Some of our favorite eco-friendly products can be found online at Wild Mint Shop.
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. Learn more about the threat of illegal shell trade here.
Written by Dr. Wallace J Nichols
This essay first appeared in the annual State of the World’s Sea Turtles report. Dr Nichols writes more about the cognitive, emotional, psychological and social benefits of healthy, wild nature in his New York Times bestseller Blue Mind. You can also read a version of this blog post on The Huffington Post.
Can you recall a time that you glimpsed a sea turtle swimming away from you under water?
Or you witnessed the multimillion-year-old ritual of a nesting turtle burying 100 glistening white eggs under the sand and moon?
Or the first time you carefully placed a baby sea turtle, hatched minutes prior, on the sand and watched it duck-dive wave after wave as it pushed its way seaward to begin an uncertain decades-long journey?
Of course you can.
It’s moments like those that led you to the curiosity and exploration you’re having now as you read. Those experiences transformed us, made us into the turtle warriors we are. Face it, how many of your high school friends are reading about global sea turtle population trends right now?
None, that’s how many. So, how did that feeling of awe convert into what may be best described as a life dedicated to turtle-centric altruism?
A typical, oft-repeated and unquestioned adage is: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Those of us who do environmental management, who have been involved with successful conservation work and movement building, know that statement is BS. The most important things we manage are not (easily) measurable — from the quality of our new team members to the awe and wonder that’s at the root of why we care in the first place. Our greatest successes sometimes occur: (a) In spite of government agencies’ denials of decades of well-considered science, (b) In the face of barely quantified threats, or (c) Alongside massive holes in our understanding of basic sea turtle biology and life history.
The “measure to manage” dogma found its place as militaristic styles expanded into business, and business expanded into our professional relationship with nature in the post-World War II industrial era. The language of targets, tactics, strategies and enemies now pervades agency- and NGO-speak alike. But, when the value of sea turtles to humans is reduced to what’s easily measured with our standard metrics and sorely limited resources, we run the risk of getting things dangerously wrong.
Ecology and economics provide a clean, clear, yet wildly incomplete, even cartoon-like framework for analyzing the values of nature. Consider this familiar balance sheet. In one column (A) is the commodified value of sea turtles as resource: eggs, meat, shell, oil. In the next, (B) is the value of sea turtles as eco-tourist attractions: hotel rooms, park fees, guides, meals, travel. If the number at the bottom of column B exceeds the value of column A, sea turtles get to live (in theory, at least).
The conversation has been expanded in recent years to include a third column called “ecosystem services” that provide public benefits. Those benefits include dune stabilization, sea grass maintenance and even climate regulation, as provided by the trophic cascades, at the top of which are often found sea turtles and other predators.
Fortunately, the conversation around valuing nature is expanding quickly to include the cognitive, emotional, psychological and social benefits that we know are real drivers of the human nature relationship. When neuropsychologists and conservation biologists team up, the results can be revolutionary. Consider a few of the real but rarely described benefits of working with sea turtles.
New research suggests that the feeling of awe is good for our health, boosts empathy and compassion, and helps connect us to the people and places around us.
Feelings of awe are some of the most cherished and transformative experiences in human life and are generated by art, music, architecture, but most often nature. Dr. Paul Piff of the School of Sociology at University of California Irvine defines awe as “the sense of being in the presence of something bigger than oneself that current knowledge structures cannot accommodate and that allows people to rise above stimulus-response patterns and lose themselves in an all-encompassing event.”
Scientists have made evolutionary arguments for the universality of awe and how it has likely evolved. Other studies find that awe may enhance our memory of events, play an important role in morality, make people less self-focused and more prosocial, lead to enhanced generosity, increase virtuous behavior, reduce feelings of entitlement and increase helping. Current studies show that feelings associated with awe can reduce cytokines (proteins important for cell signaling), chemicals associated with disease and even inflammation.
Yet, some people live wonder-free lives. For those who work with sea turtles, awe can be a daily experience. When we share our work, we make the world better. More sea turtle lovers equal more ocean advocates — a virtuous, positive feedback loop.
Our lives are becoming more and more connected, and time spent truly alone with ourselves and our own thoughts is sadly minimized. A recent study in Science demonstrates how uncomfortable solitude feels to college students: two-thirds of men pressed a button to deliver a painful jolt after a mere 15-minute period of solitude. One man — considered an outlier — found quiet thinking to be so disagreeable that he opted for a shock 190 times.
In these modern times, our written and spoken words, as well as our physical movements, are almost constantly monitored by strangers, government agencies and marketers. And this loss of solitude and privacy adds to the stress of life.
Being near, in, on or under water can be a refuge or escape, and that relationship can have the same positive benefits mentioned earlier for awe and wonder. A beach or a bay can provide a rare retreat from technology. And those are the settings in which work frequently places us fortunate souls who are turtle professionals.
Artists and engineers, musicians and entrepreneurs, writers and scientists rely heavily on their ability to generate creativity — combine old ideas and pieces to make new ones — to think of things that have never been thought of. It’s no surprise that great thinkers such as Sir Isaac Newton, Oliver Sacks and Albert Einstein found inspiration outside under a blue sky or beside flowing waters. Free from walls and over- stimulation of modern, urban existence, our brains work differently. That’s not to say better, but there’s a certain kind of expansive thinking that’s facilitated by blue space.
Perhaps there’s no better place to experience awe, creativity, inspiration, privacy, solitude and wonder than on a sea turtle beach. Humans have depicted their appreciation for the ocean and sea turtles through art for millennia. You’ve had much the same experience as our ancestors on the beach at night, face to face with our beloved chelonians. As a conservation or research professional, student, seasonal volunteer or wayfaring traveler, being with sea turtles in nature changes us. We become better versions of ourselves.
These are big ideas that are tricky to assign numbers to, but important to put into words, with ever-increasing clarity and rigor. Quite literally — as well as poetically — being with sea turtles is good medicine. And here’s a prediction: In the not-so-distant future, medical professionals will prescribe two weeks of volunteering on a turtle beach for what ails their patients.
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.
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.
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://stcturtle.org/barrierislandcenter.php