We ended our last blog describing the sobering report from the U.S. Fisheries Commissioner on the State of Florida Fisheries – which included sea turtles – in 1897. At a time when the State’s entire population was a little over one million, when land-based sources of pollution barely registered, and when seagrass meadows stretched unbroken across all the State’s estuaries, some fisheries already showed signs of stress. While the Commissioner reported declines in several fisheries, the most significant of these was the sea turtle, where reduced catch was reported across the state. The Commissioner stated in no uncertain terms: “The green turtle, one of the most valuable of the State’s fishery products, needs protection to prevent its extermination. The pernicious and destructive practice of gathering the eggs of this and the loggerhead should be prohibited.” The Commissioner recommended a statewide ban on sea turtle harvest – on land and in the water – during the period when it seeks to the shore to lay its eggs.
Despite this stark assessment, the State continued to tinker with regulation of the turtle fishery for most of the rest of the 20th century, until the prescient Commissioner’s early warning bell nearly rang true. By the time the State took serious notice, sea turtles in Florida had effectively become commercially extinct, and were well on the way to biological extinction. In the second half of the century, scientists, led by Dr. Archie Carr, began to slowly unlock the mysteries of sea turtle biology and behavior to help to explain the rapid decline, and a small group of influential advocates organized to support his work and sea turtle conservation.
Early 20th Century Legislation: The Fisheries Issue
Photo credit: Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, Key West, Florida
In 1907, the Florida Legislature enacted statewide legislation banning green and loggerhead sea turtle harvest during the nesting season, but only while the turtles were on the beach, and no mention was made of egg collection. In 1913, the first of what would eventually become a slew of local fishery laws that affected sea turtles was enacted in Dade County, which had just begun its meteoric early century population growth trajectory. The law banned most net fishing in Biscayne Bay but created an exception for large mesh nets for continued sea turtle capture. The law also required non-citizens to apply for a county license to fish “for-hire,” a term that typically, refers to charter fishing, including for turtles. Commercial commodity fishing similarly required a license and applied to all persons in the County.
After a nearly three-decade hiatus in sea turtle legislative developments, a statewide bill was enacted in 1941 that essentially mirrored the 1907 statute. This law created a closed season for the harvest of all loggerhead and green turtles while “such turtle is out of the waters or upon the beaches of the state during the months of May, June, July and August of each year.” It did not address nests or eggs. This statute moved Florida sea turtle law into the State’s new continuous revision system of statutory codification, which began in 1941. The law governing sea turtles would for a period thereafter be found in Chapter 374, Florida Statutes, titled Saltwater Fisheries (until a subsequent reorganization placed it in Chapter 370, Florida Statutes). This law was reenacted in 1949 due to a post-war hiatus in the continuous revision process. Section 374.16, as amended, essentially became the basis for what we now know as the Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act.
Legislating Sea Turtle Conservation by “Whac-a-Mole”
In 1941, a local bill was enacted to protect sea turtles both in-water and on land in during the months of May, June, July, and August. The bill made it illegal to “take, destroy, mutilate, disturb, or interfere with any turtle egg or eggs, nest or nests, or any loggerhead or green turtle” during these months. The law applied to all “Counties in the Fourth Congressional District have a population greater than 39,000.” At the time, this included Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. In addition to including nest and eggs, which Section 374.16 had failed to do, this local bill prohibited harvest “…from the water adjacent to and touching the State of Florida” in the three counties to which it applied – perhaps the first time in-water harvest was prohibited in Florida.
The 1941 local South Florida bill began a trend in Florida fisheries law addressing sea turtles (as well as other species) where the legislature essentially engaged in a rear-guard game of “Whac-A-Mole,” addressing declines on beaches and in nearshore waters on a county-by-county basis. It also began a curious trend of sometimes legislating local bills, not by identifying counties by their name, but by their population. This may have been the result of concern over the constitutionality of certain geographically specific local bills. Because population changes over time, the law could theoretically apply to other counties as their population changed, and hence it was not truly a constitutionally suspect “local bill.” However, this practice does not appear to have been uniform as it relates to sea turtle legislation.
In 1951, a law addressed sea turtles in Brevard County, an epicenter for Loggerhead nesting, for the first time. The bill was nearly identical to the 1941 law that applied by population to Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, protecting sea turtles both in-water and on land during the May through August time span. However, it expanded the period during which nests and eggs were protected to include September and October, recognizing for the first time in law that these were significant nesting months as well.
In 1953, as part of a reorganization of the Florida Statutes, the chapter on Saltwater Fisheries, first adopted in 1941 as Chapter 374, became Chapter 370 – Salt Water Fisheries and Conservation (thus adding conservation to the chapter title). The legislature included a new Section 370.12, titled “Marine Animals; regulation” and made it unlawful to “take, possess, disturb, mutilate or in anywise destroy or cause to be destroyed and marine turtle nest or eggs at any time.” This law differed from the general law that had carried forward from the original codification in 1941 and recodification in 1949 in one important way. It only addressed eggs and nests, seemingly leaving protection of turtles on nesting beaches or in-water to county-by-county local laws – a slew of which followed.
In 1955, legislatively mandated prohibitions on taking both sea turtles and/or their eggs during May through August were enacted for Martin County, with no distinction made for land or water. In that same year, local bills were also enacted (via the population-based method) that applied uniquely to Flagler, Brevard, St. Johns, and Sarasota Counties. The inclusion of Sarasota County marked the first time that west coast sea turtle populations were addressed. In 1957, Indian River County and St. Lucie County were similarly addressed.
1957 also marked significant developments in the general law addressing sea turtles statewide. Section 370.12 rectified the omission of sea turtles from the 1953 law prohibiting taking or tampering with their eggs and nests. The 1957 amendment added a Section 2 to the statute, and made it unlawful to “take, kill, possess, mutilate or in any way destroy any loggerhead or green turtle or other turtle while such turtle is on the beaches of Florida or within ½ mile seaward from the beaches during the months of May, June, July and August.” In addition to adding this new spatially defined in-water protection, the statute expanded the protections to include other species. Thus, for the first time, Hawksbill, Leatherbacks and Atlantic ridley sea turtles were also protected.
As counties grew, the population-based method of legislating local fishery laws required new special laws for those counties that “grew out of” the existing local law. These new local laws sometimes reflected new developments in conservation, and sometimes seemed duplicative of the 1957 statewide statute – Section 370.12. In 1959, the Legislature prohibited the take, possession, and sale (or offer for sale) and transport of sea turtles or eggs during the May – August nesting season. This law applied to all species of sea turtles and their eggs and also prohibited sale, offer of sale and transport of sea turtles and their eggs, new restrictions in the evolving law. Identical language was used for local laws specific to Broward County, Palm Beach County, Martin County, Brevard County Volusia County, Duval County, Nassau County. That same year a special population-based local bill was enacted prohibiting spear fishing sea turtles, which applied only to Citrus County on Florida’s west coast. This marked the second time a Gulf Coast County came under specific regulation, and the first time spearing was prohibited anywhere. In 1963, the second local law prohibiting spearfishing passed in the Upper Keys of Monroe County.
The 1950s and The Rise of Modern Sea Turtle Science
As sea turtles continued their decline in Florida, and the state legislature continued to engage in its “Whac-A-Mole” approach to regulation of the fishery, a young zoologist at the University of Florida named Archie Carr began to narrow his research focus to sea turtles and slowly unpacked the mysterious life history of these enigmatic animals. Little was known of the once-ubiquitous species that frequented Florida waters and beaches to nest and forage. Over the course of the decade (and beyond), Carr laid the foundation for the science and policy that was to come. Beginning with an article titled “The Zoogeography and Migrations of Sea Turtles” in 1954, Carr, colleagues and students published a series of articles that shed early light on sea turtle life history and behavior that would later be used to craft policy, including, migration, homing, sexual maturity, site fidelity, mating, predation, light sensitivity, and hatchling orientation among others. Titled the “Ecology and Migration of Sea Turtles,” and carried on by his students, the eight-part series spans a half a century. The first, published in 1956, focused on Florida, and on the population of juvenile non-breeding green turtles that supported the Cedar Key green turtle fishery.
By the time Carr began his research on sea turtles, nesting green turtles had already all but disappeared from Florida’s beaches. The first confirmed reports of green turtle nesting in Florida in more than half a century were recorded in 1957 in Indian River County and in 1958 in Martin County. In each case, only a single turtle was recorded. Nonetheless, these confirmed reports, and anecdotal evidence, led Carr to suspect that Florida’s Atlantic Coast had once been a significant rookery for green turtles.
While Carr is justly regarded as the foundational figure in Florida sea turtle science, others also played significant roles in the early efforts to understand the biology and behavior of sea turtles, and to manage the fishery. Robert Ingle, a towering figure in Florida fisheries management more broadly, played a significant role in the development of state sea turtle policy. Ingle was the first marine biologist hired by the State of Florida in 1949 and would go on to become Director of Research for the Florida State Board of Conservation Marine Laboratory , which would eventually become the highly respected Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. A passionate advocate for conservation, and for fisheries management, Ingle cut his teeth on sea turtle research. Later in his career, he had to grapple with the lack of understanding of the biology and behavior of sea turtles while attempting to maintain a fishery in decline largely due to that lack of understanding.
The 1950s and the Origin Story of Sea Turtle Advocacy
As researchers like Archie Carr continued to reveal the mysteries of sea turtle biology and behavior that made for such an unsustainable fishery, concern for the sea turtle’s well-being spilled over into the public. Carr’s award-winning book “The Windward Road,” accessible to a broad audience, served as the catalyst for the storied and well-chronicled formation of the “Brotherhood of the Green Turtle,” in 1958. Smitten by Carr’s book, Joshua Powers formed the Brotherhood to create a well-heeled and well-positioned group to support Carr’s work and publicize the plight of sea turtles. Carr biographer, Frederick Rowe Davis, credits the organization for creating a space for sea turtle advocacy so Carr would be able to continue to pursue government funded research without being entangled in the politics of conservation. The organization’s early advocacy work focused on international activity and contributed to protection of the nesting beach in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, the most prolific nesting beach in the Wider Caribbean, and the focus of Carr’s early research. Carr speculated that Tortuguero was the source of the green turtle diaspora throughout the Caribbean, including Florida. The Brotherhood of the Green Turtle would later become the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), and eventually the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), headquartered in Gainesville, Florida. CCC/STC would become a powerful force in the development of sea turtle policy in Florida, the United States and internationally.
The 20th century turned out to be an exercise in management futility as Florida sought to maintain a sea turtle fishery in the absence of sufficient understanding of sea turtle biology and behavior. County by county, the State adopted local law after local law attempting to restrict sea turtle and egg harvest where it was occurring, to no avail. Taking of turtles and eggs remained rampant. In the 1950s the plight of the turtle captured the attention of biologists who began to slowly unpack the science needed for management. It had become increasingly clear that sea turtles were wide-ranging, subject to depredation on foreign seas and shores, and matured slowly. At the same time, the world’s first non-governmental sea turtle advocacy organization, The Brotherhood of the Green Turtle, was established to support the work of Dr. Archie Carr, and to advocate for sea turtles throughout their range. By 1970, the tide began to turn – just in time.
Coming Next: “A Fishe No More”
Our final early history blog will explore the transition of sea turtle policy from one based in fisheries management to one based in protected species management. This transition did not occur in a vacuum. Across the globe the threat of species extinction loomed, and policymakers faced a growing chorus of environmental activism. Against this backdrop, Sea Turtles in Florida would soon become “A Fishe No More.”
Frederick R. Davis, The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles Archie Carr and the Origins of Conservation Biology (2007).
Archie F. Carr, The Windward Road Adventures of a Naturalist on Remote Caribbean Shores (1956).
Archie F. Carr, The Sea Turtle: So Excellente a Fishe (Univ. Presses of Fla., 2011).
Cory M. Malcom, The History and Archaeology of the Key West Turtle Fishing Industry, Mel Fisher Mar. Heritage Soc’y, (2013)
W.N. Witzell, The Origin, Evolution and Demise of the U.S. Sea Turtle Fisheries, 56(4) Marine Fisheries Rev. 8-23 (1994).
This project was funded (in whole or in part) by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at www.helpingseaturtles.org.
 John J. Brice, The Fish and fisheries of the coastal waters of Florida: Letter from the commissioner of fish and fisheries, transmitting in response to Senate resolution of February 15, 1895, a report of the fish and fisheries of the coastal waters of Florida, S. Doc. No. 54-100 (1897) (available at Biodiversity Heritage Library, https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/4916).
 Act of 1907, ch. 5669, 1907 Fla. Laws 167 (“An ACT to Protect Logger Head and Green Turtles on the Coasts of the State of Florida”).
 Act of 1913, ch. 6574 – No. 74, 1913 Fla. Laws, 28 (“An ACT to Regulate the Catching of Fish and Turtle in Dade County Florida”).
 Fla. Stat. §374.16 (1941) (Closed season for loggerhead or green turtle while out of the water; Penalty.)
 See George A. Dietz, Sketch of the evolution of Florida law, 3(1) Fla. L. Rev., 74-82 (1950).
 Id. at 79. Also see Fla. Stat. §374.16 (1949) (Closed season for loggerhead or green turtle while out of the water; Penalty.)
 Act of 1941, ch. 20887-No. 679, 1941 Fla. Laws 2357—58 (“An ACT for the Protection of Loggerhead and Green Turtles and Eggs and Nests of Such Turtles in all Counties in the Fourth Congressional District of the State of Florida Having a Population of More than 39,000…”).
 Edward M. Jackson, Florida’s General Laws of Special or Local Application, 10(1) Fla. L. Rev. 90—97 (1957); Douglass D. Batchelor, Population Statutes Under the Florida Constitution, 1 U. Miami L. Rev. 97 (1947) (Available at: https://repository.law.miami.edu/umlr/vol1/iss2/5).
. Act of 1953, Ch. 27415 – No. 936, 1953 Fla. Laws 299 (“An ACT for the Protection of Loggerhead and Green Turtles, and Eggs and Nests of Such Turtles, in Brevard County, Florida, and Providing a Penalty for the Violation of the Act”).
 Fla. Stat. §370.12 (1953).
Act of 1957, ch. 57-771, 1957 Fla. Laws 1091 (An ACT relating to Saltwater Fisheries Conservation; prohibiting the taking, killing, possessing or mutilating of any sea turtle within a certain distance from the beaches of Florida during a certain period and providing penalties for violations) (codified at Fla. Stat. § 370.12 (1957)).
 Act of 1959, Ch.59-927, 1959 Fla. Laws 498—99 (An ACT relating to all counties having a population of not less than six thousand one hundred (6,100) nor more than six thousand three hundred (6,300) according to the latest official state-wide decennial census; prohibiting the gigging or spearing of green turtles; providing a penalty; providing an effective date).
 Act of 1963, ch. 63-1662, 1963 Laws of Florida 2328—29 (“An ACT relating to and prohibiting spearfishing in salt waters lying in and adjacent to certain areas of Monroe County providing for penalty; providing for a referendum providing an effective date”).
 Archie F. Carr, The Zoogeograpy and Migrations of Sea Turtles, Year Book of the Am. Phil. Soc’y, 138—40 (1954).
 Archie F. Carr & David K. Caldwell, The Ecology and Migrations of Sea Turtles, 1: Results of Field Work in Florida, 1955, Am. Museum Novitates; no. 1793. (1956).
 Archie F. Carr & Robert Ingle, The Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas Mydas) in Florida, 9(3) Bull. of Marine Sci. of the Gulf and Caribbean 315-20. (1959).
 Stephen P. Geiger, In Memoriam Robert M. Ingle 1917–1997, 42(3) J. of Shellfish Rsch. 343—50 (2023).
 Robert M. Ingle & F. G. Walton Smith, Sea turtles and the turtle industry of the West Indies, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico (1949).
 Archie F. Carr, The Windward Road Adventures of a Naturalist on Remote Caribbean Shores (1956).
 Frederick R. Davis, The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles Archie Carr and the Origins of Conservation Biology (2007).
A bill moving quickly through the Florida Legislature, SB 1126/HB 1641 – Regulation of Auxiliary Containers, would ban all local governments in Florida from regulating any kind of container that is used to transport merchandise, food, or beverages, including single-use plastic. The bill also proposes to cancel the update of the State’s retail bag study, which would analyze the need for new or different regulation of auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags used by consumers to carry products from retail establishments.
The science is clear that plastic pollution is a major threat to sea turtles at every life stage. Microplastics are having an impact on sand incubation temperatures; hatchlings are consuming it as soon as they leave the nest and make it to sea; and adults are ingesting plastic at an alarming rate, leading to mortality. The only way to effectively reduce this threat is to cut off plastic pollution at the source. Local governments across the State have witnessed this need and responded accordingly by limiting single-use plastic, foam, and more. This bill could make it even harder for Florida’s threatened and endangered sea turtles to recover.
In addition to protecting the marine environment, reducing plastic pollution makes economic sense. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, recreational activity along our coasts brings in hundreds of billions of dollars and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs each year. Millions of people visit the State each year to enjoy our beaches, springs, lakes, and rivers; their patronage is dependent on the health of these iconic natural areas. By allowing plastic pollution to enter our environment without limits, the value of our natural resources to visitors will be greatly diminished.
Finally, the passage of this bill could prevent Floridians from avoiding harmful single-use plastic. Scientists have learned that microplastics are in their air that we breathe, the food we consume, the water we drink, and they have even been found in breastmilk. Local government limits on single-use plastic allow for businesses to rethink the packaging materials they use to transport goods, which is beneficial to human health.
Action needed now: HB 1641 will be heard in the FL House State Affairs Committee on February 14 at 9 a.m. We ask that you email or call committee members and urge them to vote NO on HB 1641. Their contact information can be found here:
Chair McClure: firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5068
Vice Chair Caruso: email@example.com, (850) 717-5087
Representative Alvarez: firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5069
Representative Rayner: email@example.com, (850) 717-5062
Representative Bartleman: firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5103
Representative Black: email@example.com, (850) 717-5015
Representative Buchanan: firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5074
Representative Busatta Cabrera: email@example.com, (850) 717-5114
Representative Casello: firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5090
Representative Eskamani: email@example.com, (850) 717-5042
Representative Fabricio: firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5110
Representative Gantt: email@example.com, (850) 717-5109
Representative Griffitts, Jr,: Griff.Griffitts@myfloridahouse.gov, (850) 717-5006
Representative Holcomb: firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5053
Representative Mooney: email@example.com, (850) 717-5120
Representative Persons-Mulicka: firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5078
Representative Porras: JuanCarlos.Porras@myfloridahouse.gov, (850) 717-5119
Representative Roach: email@example.com, (850) 717-5076
Representative Robinson: Felicia.firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5104
Representative Roth: email@example.com, (850) 717-5094
Representative Temple: firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 717-5052
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is hoping all of its supporters will participate in this year’s Giving Tuesday Campaign, which seeks to raise funds for the critical in-water work we are doing to study and conserve sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. Though not as well-known as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, which occurs the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 28 this year), is one day when everyone can join together to make a huge difference.
For Giving Tuesday last year, STC supporters raised $60,000 for STC’s research and conservation programs in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. STC has set its sights even higher this year, with a goal of raising $65,000, which we are confident we can reach thanks to generous pledges from STC’s Board of Directors to match up to $33,000 for every dollar donated.
STC’s In-Water Research Project in Florida has been in high gear over the last several years. The project, led by STC Biologist Rick Herren in collaboration with Dr. Ray Carthy at University of Florida’s (UF) USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, recently surpassed 300 sea turtle captures in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. The overall goals are to study sea turtle distribution, demographics, health, movements, and threats in this important foraging habitat and to promote their conservation in the region.
Our research team is working on a variety of studies in collaboration with UF graduate students. We are finishing up three projects we began in 2019. These include an estimate of species abundance and distribution throughout Florida’s Big Bend, a comparison of juvenile green turtle demographics between three widely separated foraging grounds, and a study of green turtle movement and behavior during the winter. Last year, we began working with a UF graduate student studying green turtle fibropapillomatosis or FP, which is a debilitating tumor-bearing disease linked to poor water quality. We also began studying green turtle health and diet using point-of-care devices to analyze blood gases and blood chemistry values in the field. These measurements can be used as reference values for the medical management of sea turtles under veterinary care and as a comparison with sea turtles at other developmental foraging grounds. Lastly, we are studying the movements and behavior of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in a warming Gulf of Mexico.
In addition to our research we are engaging more with the wonderful people who live in Florida’s Big Bend and Panhandle. The Big Bend or Nature Coast is one of the least developed coastlines in Florida. We are working on a new education campaign to connect with residents and visitors alike on the importance of this coast for sea turtles and what they can do to help them survive in the future. As part of this work, STC is set to release a handy new smart phone app that will allow people to report turtle sightings on the water and provide STC with useful information for locating new sea turtle foraging hot spots.
STC is deeply appreciative of all the support received from various corporate and private donors for the project. Our current project needs include a dedicated truck for towing our boat to and from various research sites, which will have the added benefit of allowing STC to respond quickly to turtle stranding events, such as cold stuns. We raised money in the past for this purpose, but during the pandemic truck prices shot up so high we are still short of our need.
We are hopeful that STC’s members will support the program this Giving Tuesday, when all donations will be matched 1:1 by the STC Board of Directors. With your support, STC will continue filling gaps in our knowledge about the sea turtle populations found in this important region, and we will apply that knowledge to effective conservation action.
Help support STC’s Giving Tuesday Fundraiser by donating in one of three ways:
1. Online at conserveturtles.org/GivingTuesday or facebook.com/conserveturtles
2. Call 352-373-6441 with your credit card info
3. Mail a check with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line. All checks received with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line will count towards the campaign if received by December 31.
Long before sea turtles were revered as charismatic megafauna worthy of protection in their own right, they were a valuable source of protein that could be counted on by both indigenous cultures and early colonial maritime powers. In 1513, Ponce de Leon reputedly reprovisioned with more than one hundred sea turtles for his return to Spain at a tiny archipelago south of Key West. He would name them “Las Tortugas”(The Turtle Islands), and they would become a part of Spanish Florida. As the colonial powers overwhelmed tropical regions, decimating indigenous populations, sea turtles quickly grew in importance as a commodity for both local and transatlantic trade. This led to the gradual development of a fisheries-based approach to sea turtle conservation.
The regulation of sea turtles in western culture dates to at least 1620 when the British colonial government of Bermuda bemoaned the wanton destruction of the Green Turtles that found their way north to the tiny British island protectorate, attracted by lush sea grass beds and near tropical waters the Gulf Stream. The Old English text from a 1620 Bermudian law, titled “AN ACT AGYNST THE KILLINGE OF OUER YOUNG TORTOYSES,” provided both the title and the forward to Archie Carr’s collection of natural history essays titled “So Excellente a Fishe.” Management of sea turtles as a fishery would serve as the basis for sea turtle “conservation” for the next 350 years, until global depletion of sea turtle populations rendered them commercially extinct, and the global species protection movement of the early 1970s rescued them from biological extinction. While it is beyond the scope of this project to trace the colonial lineage of sea turtle exploitation, suffice it to say trade in sea turtles quickly followed the westward expansion of the great colonial powers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Efforts to regulate trade in sea turtles in Florida predate statehood. As the newly independent United States of America added Florida as a territory in 1821, a variety of maritime conflicts arose with its close neighbor, the British colony of the Bahamas. During Spanish rule, Bahamian fishermen had been accustomed to fishing in Florida waters, and hunting turtles and their eggs on Florida beaches. As conflict between the new U.S. Territory and the neighboring crown colony mounted, the Governor of the Bahamas reached out to the U.S. State Department to negotiate a treaty with the United States to allow Bahamian fishermen to continue taking turtles from U.S. and Florida waters and beaches. Florida’s territorial governor implored the U.S. to ignore this request and protect what he regarded as a valuable economic asset to the Territory, and within the authority of the Territory to regulate for its own interests.
At the same time, the Territorial government enacted Florida’s first sea turtle management law – “An Act for the Protection of the Fisheries on the Coasts of Florida, and to Raise Revenue Therefrom.” The law required foreign vessels to register in Florida, and to land their catch – including sea turtles – in Florida. These requirements greatly diminished Bahamian interest in fishing in Territorial waters. The Territorial Governor was authorized to name one or more “fish commissioners” to implement the law. Interestingly, the law also forbade fishermen from employing, trading, or taking on board Seminole Indians, some of whom had just concluded the Treaty to end the First Seminole Indian War. Penalties for violating the Fisheries Act included fines and vessel forfeiture. Over the ensuing years, many Bahamian turtle fishers took residence in Florida to continue to fish the State’s waters. Even so, entreaties for fishery access from the Bahamian government to the U.S. government continued (albeit without success), as the issue of fishing and turtles grew increasingly enmeshed in concerns over slavery (prohibited in the Bahamas), aid and comfort to the Seminoles (the Seminole Indian Wars raged in this period), and illegal competition for “wrecking” rights (salvage).
When Florida became a state in 1845, it re-adopted many of its territorial laws to reflect the new sovereign state’s administrative and judicial framework, including the 1832 Territorial Fisheries Act.  Provisions of the law that addressed the Seminoles were tightened to preclude any interactions with the Tribe by fishers.
In 1860, all prior fisheries laws were repealed, and a new law was enacted. Provisions regarding the Seminoles were dropped as the issue’s immediacy faded. A new provision in the 1860 law clarified the State’s maritime jurisdiction and prohibited out of state vessels from taking fish or turtles in waters within “one marine league” (three nautical miles) of the coast, which at the time was also considered the limits of the U.S. Territorial Sea (it is now 12 miles).
Additionally, the 1860 fisheries law specifically prohibited any person, citizen, or non-resident, from “catching fish for the roes only, or turtles for the eggs only, or in any manner wantonly destroying the fish or turtle on the coast of this State.” Under this statute, even resident Floridians were prohibited from engaging in these activities, perhaps reflecting concerns over the biological significance of gravid adults to the population at large. Throughout this period, until the turn of the century, the State of Florida continued a turtle fishery policy premised largely on vessel licensing. In 1874, the State imposed a licensing requirement on all vessels fishing for turtle, oysters, and sponges, with escalating fees by weight beginning with boats greater than 10 tons. By the turn of the century, pressure on turtle and other fisheries began to manifest in diminished harvests, catching the attention of federal fisheries managers. The State’s population at the time was scarcely half of million.
A remarkable 1897 congressionally mandated report on the fisheries of Florida sounded the first alarm on overfishing of sea turtles (and other species) in the state and presaged the passage of what was likely the first law to protect nesting sea turtles in the state in 1907. The report, titled “The Fish and Fisheries of the Coastal Waters of the State of Florida” and written by United States Commissioner of Fisheries J.J. Brice, surveyed the status of the State’s fisheries, including the turtle fishery. The report suggests a rudimentary but growing knowledge of sea turtle nesting behavior – discounting one theory that female turtles return to the beach to escort their hatchlings back to the sea.
Referring to the Green Turtle, the report states: “Overfishing and the destruction of its eggs have greatly reduced its abundance in this State, and the annual catch is now much less than formerly.”
Beyond the reduction in numbers of turtles, the report also highlights a drop in average weight of landed turtles, noting that in some parts of the state “where fishing has been excessive… it is under 50 pounds.” The report identifies the major centers of turtle fishing at the time, including: the Indian River Lagoon area, Biscayne Bay, Key West and the Lower Keys, Tampa Bay, and the Cedar Keys, noting its decline in each and their effective demise in Tampa Bay.
The report concludes: “The Green Turtle, one of the State’s most valuable fishery products, needs protection to prevent its extermination.” The report recommended a moratorium on taking turtles during the nesting season, creating a minimum weight limit to protect juvenile turtles, and a prohibition on “the pernicious and destructive practice of gathering the eggs of [Green] and loggerhead turtles.” Despite this dire warning, both the harvest and the resulting population decline continued. At the time, the state was home to only 500,000 people. Clearly, there was something about the nature of the sea turtle’s biology which did not lend itself to continuing harvest.
In 1907, the Florida legislature acted on part of one of the Report’s conclusions and passed a statute prohibiting taking, killing, mutilating or “in any wise destroying any logger head [sic] or green turtle while any such turtle is laying or found out of the waters or upon the beaches of the State of Florida during the months of May, June, July and August of any year.” The 1897 U.S. Fish Commissioner’s Report had not distinguished land from water in its recommendation, but the state legislature chose only to limit harvest on land. Despite its impact on the turtle population, in-water turtle fishing during the nesting season would continue well into the 20th century, much to the chagrin of prominent sea turtle biologists such as Archie Carr.
In our next blog post, we will track the sporadic development of geographically localized sea turtle legislation in the early to mid-20th century, as legislators sought to satisfy the needs of the fishery, while attempting to address continuing declines in sea turtles in Florida. We will then turn to the growing movement to protect sea turtles in Florida and globally, as calls to protect imperiled species more generally gained momentum and scientists gained a deeper understanding of sea turtle biology.
Readers interested in digging deeper into the literature on sea turtle during the Age of Exploration, the Colonial Era and early Florida history can find more in several excellent publications.
Alison Rieser. The Case of the Green Turtle: An Uncensored History of a Conservation Icon, 2012.
James Parsons. The Green Turtle and Man. (Gainesville, University of Florida Press, 1962.
Archie Carr. Handbook of Turtles: The Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Cornell University Press, 1995.
Robert M. Ingle. Sea Turtles and the Turtle Industry of the West Indies, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, University of Miami Press, 1974.
Karl Offen. “Subsidy from Nature: Green Sea Turtles in the Colonial Caribbean.” Journal of Latin American Geography, vol. 19, no. 1, Jan. 2020.
 See generally Karl Offen, Subsidy from Nature: Green Sea Turtles in the Colonial Caribbean, 19 J. of Latin Am. Geography, Jan. 2020, at 182, https://doi.org/10.1353/lag.2020.0025; Lynn B. Harris, Maritime Cultural Encounters and Consumerism of Turtles and Manatees: An Environmental History of the Caribbean, 32 Int’l J. of Mar. Hist., November 2020, at 789, https://doi.org/10.1177/0843871420973669.
 Donna J. Souza, The Persistence of Sail in the Age of Steam (1998)(Chapter 9, The Dry Tortugas). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4899-0139-2_2. The Tortugas would later become the Dry Tortugas to remind sailors there was no freshwater on the islands.
 Archie Carr, So Excellent a Fishe: The Natural History of the Sea Turtle (2011).
 For a depiction of the sea turtles in the age of exploration through an artistic lens, see Erma Hermens, Crossing and Turning: the Sea Turtle Trade in the 17th Century, Looking Through Art Blog (June 3, 2020), https://lookingthroughartblog.wordpress.com/2020/06/03/crossing-and-turning-the-sea-turtle-trade-in-the-17th-century/.
 The Territorial Papers of the United States (The Territory of Florida, 1828-1834), 24 The Nat’l Archives, 557 (1959).
 Report of James D. Westcott, Jr., Secretary & Acting Governor to Territorial Legislative Council Journal of the Proceedings of the Legislative Council, 10th Sess., at 5, (Jan. 2, 1832).
 An Act for the Protection of the Fisheries on the Coasts of Florida, and to raise revenue therefrom, 57 Acts of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida, at 82 (1832).
 Alison Reiser, The Case of the Green Turtle: An Uncensored History of a Conservation Icon 21-22 (2012).
 32d Cong., 2d. Sess. Executive Documents of the United States, (1852-53).
 An Act for the Protection of the Fisheries on the Coast of Florida, ch. 34,1845 Fla. Laws 67.
 An Act to Regulate Fishing on the Coast of the State of Florida, ch. 1,121, 1860 Fla. Laws 67.
 An Act for the Assessment and Collection of Revenue, ch. 1976, 1874 Fla. Laws 13.
 John Jones Brice, The Fish and fisheries of the coastal waters of Florida: Letter from the commissioner of fish and fisheries, transmitting in response to Senate resolution of February 15, 1895, a report of the fish and fisheries of the coastal waters of Florida, S. Doc. No. 54-100 (1897) (via Biodiversity Heritage Library, https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/4916 )
 An Act to Protect Logger Head and Green Turtles on the Coasts of the State of Florida, ch. 5669, 1907 Fla. Laws 167.
This project was funded (in whole or in part) by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at www.helpingseaturtles.org.
Dating back to its territorial past, Florida has played a major role in the global development of sea turtle protection policy – and the science that supports it. Over the next year STC will tell this story through an interactive ArcGIS StoryMap, which will contain a curated timeline, a series of articles (in blog format), and accompanying social media posts, all based on original research, including oral history interviews. The project will be led by University of Florida Law Professor Emeritus Thomas T. Ankersen and Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) Development and Policy Coordinator Stacey Gallagher.
With more than 22 million residents and more than 100 million yearly visitors, Florida’s fast-track growth and development policy has always challenged its ability to protect the nature that brought people to the state in the first place. Nowhere is this truer than along the coast.
According to NOAA, about three-quarters of the state’s population live along the coast. This makes sea turtles especially vulnerable to a host of man-made threats, including disorienting coastal lighting, degraded water quality, unforgiving sea walls and other forms of armoring, vessel strikes, and, perhaps most confounding, climate change.
The state’s development trajectory from a backwater frontier to a thriving modern economy, built in large part on its coasts and climate, has made it an ideal laboratory for the development of sea turtle conservation science and policy. As a result, Florida’s sea turtles have played an outsized role in shaping state, federal and international environmental and fisheries law, as well as coastal management and resiliency policy. And, of course, Florida is the intellectual home to the pioneering science and advocacy that has provided, and continues to provide, the underpinnings of policy development.
These protection efforts took years of science-based advocacy, research, and education by dedicated individuals in the sea turtle community – many of whom are no longer here to tell the story of how the protection laws or policies were established. Those scientists, agency personnel and advocates still working in the trenches have little time to reflect on the state’s contribution to sea turtle protection law and policy. Recognizing this, STC is excited to embark on this project, not only for the historical record, but to motivate and inform future leaders in sea turtle conservation.
Funded by the Sea Turtle Grants Program, the final product will live on the STC website. The first installment will explore the rise and demise of the sea turtle fishery in Florida, beginning with an early eighteenth century dispute over access to the fishery between the territory of Florida and The Bahamas.
Make sure to check STC’s website and social media pages for periodic updates.
About the Authors
Stacey Gallagher has been a development coordinator and sea turtle lighting specialist at STC for six years. Stacey participates in education and outreach on behalf of sea turtles and their habitats and regularly mobilizes the support of STC’s followers and members, local marine turtle permit holders, and other stakeholders for the protection of Florida’s sea turtles. By hosting presentations at conferences, virtual webinars for coastal code enforcement personnel, and events for the general public, Stacey raises the alarm of the plight of sea turtles and provides ways for audiences to reduce threats to their survival. Stacey’s academic and employment backgrounds were focused on mass communication and journalism, and Stacey uses those skills every day to inspire various audiences to take conservation action.
Thomas T. Ankersen is Director Emeritus of the Conservation Clinic at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. While at UF he also directed the Coastal Policy Lab in the Center for Coastal Solutions at the University of Florida and Florida Sea Grant’s Legal Program. Ankersen has helped to craft state and local legislation and rules concerning sea turtle lighting protection, coastal armoring and coastal resiliency. Ankersen has also worked on international sea turtle conservation policy in the wider Caribbean, especially Costa Rica and the Bahamas. He helped draft and negotiate the 1998 Sea Turtle Conservation Agreement between Costa Rica and Panama, a legacy of the late Dr. Archie Carr. In addition to a law degree from the University of Florida, Ankersen has a Master’s Degree in History from the University of South Florida.
We are thrilled to announce that Florida House Bill 1489, a bill designating the southern area of Brevard County as an Area of Critical State Concern, was signed into law by the Governor yesterday!
Brevard County’s south beaches join only five other areas in Florida with this designation, including the Florida Keys, Key West, Big Cypress, the Green Swamp and the Apalachicola Bay area.
This new protection area contains the entirety of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20.5-mile section of shoreline between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso Beach – the most important sea turtle nesting beach in the United States. It also contains the Indian River Lagoon, an important estuary, recreational fishery, and developmental habitat for sea turtles.
The law requires state, regional, and local government agencies to prevent the adverse impacts of development on resources critical to sea turtle habitat. This includes prohibiting new shoreline hard armoring, reducing nutrient pollution to improve water quality, supporting nature-based solutions to restore habitat, ensuring that development is compatible with the barrier island’s natural resources, and more. Read the full language here.
After learning about efforts to increase development density on Brevard’s South Beaches earlier this year, Sea Turtle Conservancy worked with Barrier Island Protection and Preservation Association (BIPPA), 1000 Friends of Florida, and Brevard County legislators to help draft and advocate for this legislation. At every committee stop, including the full House and Senate, the bill passed unanimously. We believe this was due to the overwhelming feedback legislators received from community members and supporters about the bill.
We thank Representative Thad Altman and Senator Tom Wright for filing this legislation, as well as their staff aides who helped usher the legislation through the process. The bills had strong support from the entire Brevard County legislative delegation. We are also grateful to our conservation partners, legislators, local community members, and our dedicated supporters who helped contribute to this victory for sea turtles!
The Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP), funded by the sale of Florida’s “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, recently awarded $490,892.07 to 30 different projects benefiting Florida sea turtles as part of the 2023-2024 grant funding cycle. Since it’s inception, the Sea Turtle License Plate Grants Program has awarded more than $7 million to conservation projects.
Each year, the Sea Turtle Grants Program distributes money to coastal county governments, educational and research 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 2023-2024 cycle:
A major threat to sea turtles is the ingestion of or entanglement with marine debris, including single-use balloons. Although many Floridians participate in balloon releases as part of a celebration or to honor a loved one, once balloons are released, they can travel thousands of miles before landing. When a balloon bursts and lands in the ocean, sea turtles and other marine wildlife often consume it because of its resemblance to jellyfish. Sea turtles are unable to regurgitate, so once the balloon enters the digestive tract, it can cause an impaction that can lead to death.
The ribbon attached to balloons also wraps around the flippers or necks of sea turtles, inhibiting breathing, eating or swimming. People who monitor sea turtle nesting around Florida report seeing balloons on nesting beaches on an almost-daily basis. Sea turtle rehabilitation facilities in Florida spend hours removing balloon material and other plastic debris from stranded sea turtles. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has numerous records of sea turtle deaths associated with balloons.
We are encouraged to see the filing of H.B. 91 – Release of Balloons, which would close a loophole allowing countless balloons to enter our waterways and kill marine life, including sea turtles. Currently, Florida Statute 379.233 prohibits the release of ten or more balloons per day, but makes an exception for “biodegradable” balloons, which is not scientifically sound. By removing these two loopholes, as read in H.B. 91, Florida can drastically reduce plastic debris in the marine environment and save countless marine animals.
All species of sea turtles found in Florida’s coastal and nearshore habitats are listed as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, meaning that they are at risk of extinction. A number of man-made threats, including coastal development, light pollution, boat strikes, commercial fishing interactions, and plastic pollution are contributing to their decline. While reducing plastic pollution in the ocean as a whole will require systemic change, stopping intentional balloon releases and their debris in the marine environment is achievable through laws such as H.B. 91. By supporting the balloon release ban in Florida in 2023, you can directly improve sea turtle nesting and foraging habitat.
The 2023 Legislative Session begins on March 7 and ends on May 5. To support this legislation, STC encourages Floridians and all sea turtle enthusiasts to contact state House Representatives and Senators and ask them to support H.B. 91, the intentional balloon release ban, when it is scheduled in their committees and up for consideration on the House and Senate floor. While emailing is helpful, directly calling legislators at their district or Tallahassee offices and speaking with their staff is especially impactful. If you are unsure who your legislators are, follow the links below.
Find your Florida Senator: https://www.flsenate.gov/senators/find
Find your Florida House Representative: https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/findyourrepresentative
SCAM ALERT! Companies operating under a variety of names are advertising on Facebook, selling products online, and illegally using STC’s turtle tracking maps as a perk to buyers. If you have been offered an STC tracked turtle by purchasing something from Bela Wonder, Ocean Project.co (not to be confused with ‘The Ocean Project‘), Turtle’s Journey, Wildlife Team, Wildlife Mission, or Ocean Better, they have used Sea Turtle Conservancy’s turtle tracking information without our permission. Don’t be duped or support the scammers!
If you have been scammed, please do NOT email or call STC if you haven’t received your order or if you have questions about your turtle. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do. The greatest inconvenience to STC (aside from having our copyrighted information stolen) is the valuable staff time that is being wasted responding to people’s complaints rather than actually working to protect sea turtles. Instead, we encourage you to report the activity of these companies to the Better Business Bureau, Shopify, and Facebook (contact information below).
How to report scam companies:
File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau: https://www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started
Report online shops to Shopify: https://help.shopify.com/en/questions#/contact/email
Report pages to Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/help/355811251195044
If you ever question the legitimacy of a company who claims to partner with STC, we encourage you to reference the PARTNERS page on our website, which we update regularly.
Each year for Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving), Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) targets one of its most pressing sea turtle protection projects as the focus for this annual charitable event. The campaign starts with a pledge from STC’s Board of Directors to match the individual donations provided by STC members and supporters, up to a certain amount. This year’s challenge match from the Board will be $35,000, which means our Giving Tuesday fundraising goal is $70,000 or more.
All funds donated for this year’s Giving Tuesday will be directed toward STC’s turtle research and protection efforts in Tortuguero, Costa Rica—the birthplace of sea turtle conservation. STC’s work in Tortuguero began back in the 1950s, making it the longest-continuous turtle conservation project in the world. Many of the turtle monitoring and protection efforts developed at Tortuguero are used today by sea turtle conservationists around the globe. In fact, many of the world’s leading sea turtle scientists and project leaders got their start as STC Research Assistants in Tortuguero. Most importantly, as a result of STC’s efforts over the last six decades, the green turtle colony that nests at Tortuguero recovered from near the brink of extinction to being one of the two largest green turtle populations in the world.
With all the history and success of this project, STC is concerned knowing that the gains made on behalf of Tortuguero’s green turtles could be in jeopardy for reasons that are poorly understood. Our strategy of systematically reducing threats to sea turtles both on the nesting beach and at sea produced measurable results over the decades. Beginning in the late 1970s, approximately 25 years after conservation efforts started at Tortuguero, the green turtle population began increasing in size. The timing was not a coincidence. Green turtles take at least that long to reach maturity—meaning hatchlings that were protected and released in the 1950s should have started returning to Tortuguero as adults to nest by the end of the 70s. That’s exactly what our data indicates happened.
From the 1960s up to 2012, the number of green turtle nests deposited in Tortuguero grew by over 600%. During high nesting years, it was common to document well over 150,000 nests in a season. The establishment of Tortuguero National Park, the elimination of global sea turtle trade, the banning of turtle and egg consumption at Tortuguero, and the development of sea turtle eco-tourism as an alternative livelihood for the local community all had positive impacts—proving that sea turtle conservation efforts developed by STC worked. Tortuguero green turtles were on the path to full recovery.
But something unexpected began to happen over the next decade. Starting in 2013, we began documenting a declining trend in nesting. It wasn’t a dramatic drop. In fact, given the phenomenal growth of the population prior to this time period, STC was not particularly worried about a few “down” years of nesting. The factors that cause annual turtle nesting numbers on any beach to ebb and flow still are not well understood. However, our cautious observation of the nesting trend turned into real worry in 2021, when after several down nesting seasons, the number of nests dropped to the lowest level in 25 years (about 40,000 nests for the entire season). This is still a lot of green turtle nests, and it reaffirms Tortuguero’s global importance for this species. Nevertheless, it sparked worry knowing that a little over ten years ago the number of nests hit 180,000 during a single season.
While our preliminary analysis of the 2022 nesting season indicates an encouraging uptick in nesting, the trend over the last decade still has us concerned that something unusual is happening. And that’s bad news for green turtles throughout the Caribbean and Atlantic. With funding raised through this year’s Giving Tuesday campaign, STC will launch important new studies and conservation efforts to help identify and address the threats that have caused the population decline. There probably is not a single “smoking gun.” Rather, it’s more likely that the collective impact of several threats is affecting the population. Our work will focus on identifying new marine foraging sites used by green turtles where they may be experiencing previously-undocumented hunting pressure. We also will work more strategically with the community and natural resource agencies in Tortuguero to curtail illegal hunting of turtles and eggs, which increased dramatically during the pandemic and still remains at an elevated level. It is entirely possible that unforeseen factors related to climate change could be impacting turtle reproduction, so this is another area where our focus will turn.
STC has proven that it has the skill, dedication and tenacity to ensure the long-term survival of sea turtles. We will not allow our decades of success on behalf of sea turtles at Tortuguero to be undone, but we need your help. Please consider making a special donation for this year’s Giving Tuesday (donations will be accepted for this purpose through the end of the year).
Help support STC’s Giving Tuesday Fundraiser by donating in one of three ways:
1. Online at www.conserveturtles.org/GivingTuesday or facebook.com/conserveturtles
2. Call 352-373-6441 with your credit card info
3. Mail a check with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line. All checks received with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line will count towards the campaign if received by December 31st.
Introducing the winning photos from our 2023 Sea Turtle Calendar Contest! Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest. It gets harder every year to narrow down hundreds of beautiful images to only 13 photos! Calendars will be for sale in our online gift shop in late November or early December. We will post the link once they’re live!
January 18 – February 15, 2023
Instructors: Sarah Rhodes-Ondi, Sea Turtle Conservancy and Amanda Thompson, The Nature Conservancy
For more information and to register for the course, click here!
The Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund
Unrestricted endowment funding to meet the complex challenges of a changing world
Written by Linda Randgaard Antonioli (Lisa’s sister)
This year marks a decade since we lost Lisa, and she remains at the heart of all we do for the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC).
Lisa came into the world in Naperville, IL, on August 17, 1968. A serious heart condition, later diagnosed as severe tetralogy of fallot, necessitated her immediate transfer to Children’s Memorial Hospital (now Lurie Children’s) in downtown Chicago. The Democratic Convention began there nine days later, and chaotic demonstrations erupted on the streets. Mom recalled vividly the smell of tear gas and protestors pounding on the car as she drove to get to Lisa’s bedside. It was a most colorful start for our brave sister, our family’s youngest.
The challenges of living with a chronic pediatric disease so rare that adult medicine was ill-equipped to treat it required Lisa to receive care and surgical support from pediatric physicians throughout her lifetime. Florida’s climate was far gentler on Lisa’s health than Minnesota, where we grew up; she moved to Ft. Lauderdale in the 1990s and ultimately relocated to Ft. Myers, where she put down roots. There, Lisa became acquainted with STC, and a passion for sea turtles began. It brought her great joy to support STC, and to track sea turtles online through Tour de Turtles events. Even as her health started to decline, Lisa’s beautiful soul, sharp wit, humble nature, adventurous spirit, great love for animals, and generous heart never dimmed.
With the support of Executive Director David Godfrey, the Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund was established by her family after Lisa’s sudden passing from complications of her disease at the age of 43 on May 2, 2012. This is the first endowment fund created by donors, which, we know, would make Lisa very proud. There are many kind and generous people in the STC Community that support our fundraising and each of them has our enduring gratitude.
As we mentioned, this year marks a decade since we lost Lisa, and she remains at the heart of all we do for STC. Some of our achievements over the last decade include:
The Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP), funded by the sale of Florida’s “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, recently awarded $445,550.59 to 26 different projects benefiting Florida sea turtles as part of the 2022-2023 grant funding cycle. Since it’s inception, the Sea Turtle License Plate Grants Program has awarded more than $7 million to conservation projects.
Each year, the Sea Turtle Grants Program distributes money to coastal county governments, educational and research 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 2021-2022 cycle:
Florida’s sea turtles face a number of threats to their survival – coastal development, poor water quality, ingestion of marine debris, and artificial lighting – but they also have a lot of people in their corner that fight to protect them. Among these people are coastal code enforcement officers who survey the lighting on beachfront properties during sea turtle nesting season and work with coastal property owners to comply with their local ordinances. Because the State of Florida leaves it up to individual counties and municipalities to adopt and enforce their own sea turtle lighting ordinances, local government officials are on the front lines of protecting their local sea turtle populations from disorientation by poorly managed lights.
This task is not for the faint of heart. Although sea turtle nesting season occurs mostly during the summer months, code enforcement officers spend the winter preparing their communities for nesting season by sending out reminders to turn off lights or use sea turtle friendly lighting, compiling violation data, conducting pre-season lighting surveys, and tending to other code enforcement-related responsibilities that don’t involve their sea turtle lighting ordinances. In addition, a code enforcement officer’s coastal territory often covers several miles and dozens of coastal properties – all with potentially problematic lighting that needs to be addressed. Some officers utilize off-road vehicles at night to cover the extensive stretches of beach, while others conduct their lighting surveys by foot.
Chris Kopp, the only code enforcement officer for the Town of Longboat Key, prefers the latter method. His survey area is 11 miles long and hosts the second-highest number of disorientations in Florida. He recently spearheaded the effort to update the Town’s sea turtle lighting ordinance to reflect the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s new Model Lighting Ordinance and regularly assists code enforcement officers across the state with doing the same. Below, we talk with Chris about how he manages his time as a department of one, his enforcement style, and his favorite sea turtle experience.
What is your education and career background?
I am Florida born and raised. I have over 20 years of combined military, law enforcement, and code enforcement experience. I served two tours on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2007, I began my enforcement career with the Margate Police Department in Florida, before transferring to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina. In 2019, I turned my part time gig of teaching active shooter survival into a full-time business with Lockdown International. In 2020, I returned to Florida as the Code Enforcement Officer for the Town of Longboat Key. I hold a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Administration and several advanced certifications in the enforcement fields.
How did you end up as a code enforcement officer on Longboat Key?
I was looking for a career opportunity which allowed me to use my professional experience and desire to work with the community in public service. The Town of Longboat Key was always a beautiful place to visit during family vacations. Longboat Key gives you that small town feel with big cities amenities all around. Code Enforcement on Longboat Key checked all those boxes for me and my family.
What role do you play as code enforcement during sea turtle nesting season?
The Code Enforcement Division handles every aspect of sea turtle protection during nesting season. We write the ordinance, present ordinance changes to the Town Commission, educate the public on the ordinance, inspect properties for compliance, work toward voluntary compliance with property owners, issue citations, and even take property owners to a Special Magistrate Hearing. A lot of our work happens outside of sea turtle nesting season. Citations and Magistrate Hearings are always a tool for enforcement, but don’t always produce the best long-term results. If we can properly educate and prepare the community prior to the nesting season, then our violations tend to decrease. Our goal is to educate the community on why the rules exist, and work with violators to gain full compliance for the safety of sea turtles.
As you often say, you are a department of one. How do you manage all of the responsibilities of an entire department, especially during the height of nesting season?
Time management and community involvement are crucial in this position no matter the size of the department. However, I am not alone during the nesting season. Longboat Key Turtle Watch has a wonderful team of volunteers assisting our local FWC permit holder, Mote Marine Laboratory, with the daily morning monitoring of turtle nests. These volunteers provide outstanding communication about potential lighting and obstruction violations they observe. I also receive every FWC Marine Turtle Disorientation Report within 24 hours. All this information helps me focus my time in the needed hot spots.
What was the impetus for Longboat Key’s ordinance update and what was the process like?
There were a number of driving factors which caused the Town to update our Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance, with the biggest factor being our number of disorientations. It pains me to say that our Town has had the second highest number of disorientations in the entire state for years. We are not proud of this, and we are striving to change it. Other factors included the advancements in sea turtles research, the advancements in lighting technology, our increasing population, and other minor verbiage changes long overdue. The process was not as simple as making a couple of changes and applying the ceremonial rubber stamp. Each word in the ordinance can potentially affect sea turtles, our citizens, and other community stakeholders. We were calculated in our changes to ensure it was in everyone’s best interest. We had long discussions with our residents, our businesses, attorneys, lighting experts, window manufactures, tinting engineers, and our partners in sea turtle protection, including the Sea Turtle Conservancy. We wanted to get the entire community involved in creating an effective ordinance. It was an eight-month process, and we are proud of our final product.
How do you approach enforcing Longboat Key’s ordinance?
Voluntary compliance is the goal for every code enforcement officer. Once a violation is observed, we attempt to make an in-person or over-the-phone meeting. Many property owners in violation don’t know they are violating an ordinance. We want to educate them on the ordinance, how they are violating it, and how to come into compliance. This method also provides a much quicker compliance rate then using snail mail. The type of violation (i.e. lighting, furniture left on the beach, etc.) will determine our enforcement options. Items left on the beach can be tagged for removal or impounded. Citations can be written for each day a violation exists. A Notice of Code Violation letter may be mailed to the property owner which starts a legal process toward a Special Magistrate Hearing. A Magistrate can then access fines in the form of liens. We have used all methods to enforce our Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance.
What has been your most challenging sea turtle lighting case or violation that you’ve handled?
We have a repeat offender who continues to have lighting violations. The property is a short-term rental, owned by an out-of-state company. Zero communication from the company. We observe a violation, inform the renters about the ordinance, and then a week later a new renter arrives. We then observe another violation, inform the new renter about the ordinance, and you get the picture. We have issued numerous citations and have an active lien on the property. Not all violations have a success story. The other 99% of my interactions have positive, successful endings.
What do you think is the best part of your job?
The community. Community services was my specialty during my time in law enforcement. It is what I enjoy most – the interaction with everyone. No one wants to see the Code Enforcement Officer at their door or receive a violation in the mail. I understand my job from their perspective. I try to provide each person with some education, a smile, and some light humor.
Tell me about a meaningful sea turtle experience you’ve had.
Watching a massive sea turtle lay eggs or hatchlings exploding out of the nest like a bag of Jiffy Pop is just really cool to see. I am fortunate to see these things happen during nighttime inspections. I was able to rescue a couple of hatchlings trapped in the vegetation roots and being eaten by ants. The hatchlings were rehabilitated by Mote Marine Laboratory and released. It puts into perspective the “why” for me and my job responsibilities.
What advice do you have for code enforcement officers in coastal counties who want to implement lighting ordinance updates?
Your abilities as a Code Enforcement Officer are only as good as your ordinance is enforceable. Your ordinance needs to stay current with sea turtle research, lighting technology, and recommendations by our partners at the state level. The Model Lighting Ordinance was released as Florida Administrative Code 62B-55 on December 17, 2020. Does your ordinance reflect their recommendations? If not, then it’s time to update your ordinance. We are a brotherhood and sisterhood in the fight together. I’ve assisted other jurisdictions with updating their ordinances. Let me be a resource for you. My email is email@example.com.
Written by Janet Nupp Hochella, long-time STC member and BIC volunteer. The 30 plus years of efforts on behalf of turtles earned Janet the prestigious Ed Drane Award for Volunteerism at the 2017 International Sea Turtle Society Symposium. Janet now resides in Melbourne, Florida where she can continue to pursue her passion – sea turtles!
From the first year that Guided Sea Turtle Walks were conducted at the Barrier Island Center, I have navigated the dark sandy beach at Bonsteel Park in hopes of finding a nesting loggerhead sea turtle for the guests, young and old, who have assembled from all parts of the state or the country. As a sea turtle walk scout, I never tire from the excitement of meeting new people. But more gratifying is finding a nesting loggerhead sea turtle to show the guests, most who have never seen a sea turtle in the wild, and to share in the guests’ enthusiasm and appreciation of this special reptile.
Guided Sea Turtle Walks offer a unique educational and outreach opportunity for participants. But sometimes, there is an added bonus. The loggerhead sea turtle that the Friday night scouting crew found on their first walk night of the 2021 season on June 4th was a very special sea turtle!
Early into the scouting, while the guests were listening to the educational slide presentation, Turtle South came upon a nesting loggerhead. Scott Beazley and Brandon Garrett radioed to Turtle North, Jenna Coven and me, that they had a small loggerhead digging her egg chamber which would be a good candidate to show the guests. The turtle was not far south of the Bonsteel ramp where the guests access the beach. The Lead, Cindy Pless, was notified and the guests were gathered to get to the beach and to the turtle in time to see the turtle dropping eggs into her egg chamber. This was a small turtle and she was moving right along, but the guests got there in time to see the egg laying process. Always interested in determining whether an observed turtle might have been encountered by the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group and under the FWC permit guidelines, I requested that we check, after the turtle finished camouflaging her nest, for tags – metal tags on one of the scutes of the inner edge of both the left and the right flippers, and most importantly, for a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag which could be located in any one of the four flippers. Most importantly because the sea turtle can “lose” the metal tags, but the internal tag is usually permanent and can be read with a PIT tag scanner.
Without the use of any light, Scott and I checked for the metal tags. There was none on the left front flipper…but, bingo, there was a flipper tag on the right front flipper! Because I also volunteer with the UCF MTRG and am permitted to check for tags, I grabbed my PIT tag scanner and immediately got a reading from the right front flipper. Finding a PIT tag is always exciting as it reveals there is a history with the turtle. This PIT tag was not in a series that I recognized so finding out the source of the PIT tag would be very intriguing and important. With only the use of the red headlamp to read the flipper tag and the PIT tag, I asked one of the scouts to copy the number to a clipboard that the Lead carries so that I could investigate the source of the tag numbers.
Upon checking with the University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group who monitor and conduct sea turtle research on the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, I was informed that this turtle most definitely had a history. Not only was the turtle seen on the Archie Carr National Refuge by the UCF researchers almost 18 years prior, she was originally encountered by a NOAA group in Florida Bay 21 years ago. I would need to contact Barbara Schroeder, National Sea Turtle Coordinator of NOAA-NMFS, for the particulars.
After several attempts through various channels, I was able to connect with Barbara Schroeder. I was thrilled to learn that the turtle we encountered was one that Barbara Schroeder herself has researched and documented over many years as part of the FFWCC/NOAA Florida Bay Sea Turtle Project.
(Photos courtesy of Barbara Schroeder, FWC/NOAA Sea Turtle Bay Project)
This small loggerhead has quite a backstory! Barbara Schroeder writes in an email “this turtle was first captured by us in Florida Bay in 2000, she was an adult then (you can see her length has not changed). In March 2013 we satellite tagged this turtle after ultrasound revealed she was preparing to breed that summer and she was seen nesting at ACNWR in June 2013 and of course her satellite tag data showed us the same. We named her “Shiver” as it was very cold in March 2013 when we captured her.” Summary records that Barbara Schroeder sent along in the email show that the turtle has been recorded as seen nesting on the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, 2018, and now in 2021.
Shiver is a special turtle study with her history of being recaptured multiple times in Florida Bay and on the Archie Carr Refuge in multiple years. Shiver gained celebrity status with her own write up in Blair E. Witherington’s book Our Sea Turtles published by Pineapple Press in 2015. Dr. Witherington used Shiver’s data, provided by the FFWCC/NOAA Florida Bay Sea Turtle Project, to exemplify the reproductive migrations of sea turtles. In his book on page 123, Witherington writes “To track her movements over her upcoming nesting season, the researchers attached a satellite transmitter to Shiver’s carapace. Her broadcasts indicated that she left Florida Bay to enter the Atlantic in mid-April and moved along the Florida coast to the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, covering the roughly 250 miles (400 km) trip in about two weeks. Shiver lingered off the refuge and deposited several clutches over an 11-week period. Not long after her last nest, Shiver set off for home, nearly reaching her home waters of Florida Bay after a three-week swim.” The photo to to the right, taken from the book, shows a photo of Shiver and her migratory path in 2013.
As sea turtles generally nest every two years, Shiver probably won’t be encountered on her nesting beach this year. Finding her again in the 2023 Sea Turtle Nesting Season would truly be a stroke of luck with the hundreds of loggerheads that nest multiple times every season on the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. But the Sea Turtle Conservancy Barrier Island Center Sea Turtle Scouts will be out there again this 2022 season. Who knows what sea turtle we will encounter on our guided sea turtle walk night. All of the sea turtles are special! Like Shiver!
Further information on Referenced Organizations:
Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge – https://conserveturtles.org/archie-carr-national-wildlife-refuge-refuge-sea-turtles/
Sea Turtle Conservancy Barrier Island Sanctuary – https://conserveturtles.org/barrier-island-education-center/
University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group – https://sciences.ucf.edu/biology/marineturtleresearchgroup/?fbclid=IwAR32HUqbqY0RdEe2pcZeTN3Zk3meCYavHVvAvxq7v5mLmQmaKEl_1JU_Qow