Hurricane Season

In light of the recent hurricanes, our hearts are with all of our partners in Florida, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico.  We are very grateful that our LMC sea turtle patients, staff members, volunteers, and facility were not more tragically affected by the storm. Many members of our conservation community have been devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Today, our thoughts are especially focused on our partners in Puerto Rico who were in the direct path of Hurricane Maria early yesterday morning.  We have been honored to work with these colleagues, who quickly became friends, for several years and are looking forward to being back in touch with them and helping as much as we can as soon as the storm clears.  It is important that we pull together to support each other in times when help is so widely needed.

We have organized a local volunteer shift at the Palm Beach County Food Bank next Wednesday, 9/27, from 1:00 – 4:00 PM.  If you are able to join us, please email dfox@marinelife.org for more information.

Stay safe, everyone.

Our Responsible Pier Initiative (RPI) partners in Virginia have been hard at work!  While we were installing cigarette receptacles on Florida piers, we stopped at the Post Office to ship supplies to Virginia Beach.

Our colleagues at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center monitor seven fishing piers.  Since 2014, they have been holding workshops for pier managers, surveying anglers, and responding to incidentally hooked sea turtles in the Virginia Beach area.  Their Pier Partner Program has seen incredible success.  When we offered to include them in our proposal to place cigarette receptacles on participating RPI piers through Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, they quickly agreed to distribute the receptacles to their piers.

Staff recently conducted initial litter scans at three of their seven piers and have already removed nearly 1,700 cigarette butts.

Conservation is not a singular action.  It is ongoing.  It takes many projects in many, widely dispersed spaces, and requires the help of everyone.  By working with partners like ours at the Virginia Aquarium, we are much better equipped to effect change for our ocean.  We are looking forward to seeing the impact we can make together.

 

Late Friday, I received an email from Lake Worth Ocean Rescue, our dedicated RPI partner for the William O. Lockhart Municipal (Lake Worth) Pier.  The cigarette receptacles, which we installed with the help of a Cigarette Litter Prevention Program grant on June 7, were already full.

I took the short trip south to Lake Worth Saturday morning to find cigarette butts nearly spilling from the receptacle at the foot of the pier.  The pier’s bait house employees were kind enough to help me open the salt-crusted lock on the receptacle to collect the butts.  They asked me to leave them a set of keys and we made a deal: they would monitor the bin closest to the bait house if we took care of the two further out on the pier.  Done!

On my count, 632 cigarette butts and three cigar tips were properly discarded.

One cigarette butt stamped out on the pier’s deck may not seem like it could do much harm to the great, big ocean, but the cumulative effect of everyone’s cigarette butts every day leaves a lot of plastic filters and chemicals with the potential to enter the water and be consumed by unsuspecting marine species.

Thank you to the Lake Worth Ocean Rescue lifeguards, who not only keep beachgoers safe, but also work to protect marine life and to the Lake Worth Pier staff who are doing their part to be sure everyone minds their butts!

 

 

Fishing piers are home to an elevated number of interactions between sea turtles and recreational anglers. To mitigate the effects of incidental capture and entanglements, in 2013 we implemented the Responsible Pier Initiative (RPI) on the Juno Beach Pier. The Initiative is designed to work collaboratively with anglers and provide them with the tools and training necessary to respond appropriately in the event a sea turtle becomes accidentally hooked or entangled on a fishing pier.

In the last four years, we have partnered with 24 organizations, municipal and other NGOs, to expand the program to 53 fishing piers across Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, and Puerto Rico. The RPI is now responsible for more than 300 successful sea turtle rescues and the removal of over 4,900 lbs. of marine debris.
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Yesterday, as I was passing by the center’s classrooms, I noticed some of our summer campers lining up beside projects they had worked on so, I walked over to have a closer look. There were posters and dioramas and sea turtle models – all made from recycled materials. They called it their ‘Sea Turtle Conference,’ a display of work to showcase to parents eager to hear about their day at LMC’s Jr. Marine Biologist camp.

I began to ask a few of the kids to tell me about their projects and was immediately met by energetic explanations of each tiny detail depicted in their work. Many showed beaches littered with trash. Some had turtles that had swallowed fishing hooks or become entangled in monofilament. A few had images of buildings with sea-turtle-safe red lights.

Each camper gave me a long list of things I could do to better protect sea turtles. They were determined to pass what they had learned in camp along to me – and anyone else who stopped to listen. The pride they took in their new mission to conserve the natural environment is the driving force for our Education Department and it is enough to make all of us want to work harder.

The Friday afternoon Sea Turtle Conference is now one of my favorite parts of LMC. Can’t wait to see what they will teach us next week.

I hope everyone had a safe and happy 4th of July! While we all look forward to holiday BBQs, beach days, and colorful fireworks displays, the inevitable truth is that all of these celebrations tend to leave trash behind. This is especially important on Independence Day as it falls at the height of sea turtle nesting season on our densely nested beaches.

This morning, we gathered a group of volunteers to do some damage control and learn a bit more about the types of debris we could find.

In less than one hour, on less than a one-mile stretch of beach, we collected:

  • 150 fireworks
  • 142 plastic bags
  • 141 cigarette butts
  • 126 food wrappers
  • 14 glass bottles, 11 plastic bottles, 45 plastic bottle caps
  • and many other items

As we walked along the beach, others saw what we were doing and picked up pieces of trash to add to our bags. For me, that is always the most inspiring part. We can all celebrate together, but it is also our responsibility to protect our nation’s species and spaces – together.

We hope tonight, the beach is a bit better suited for the female turtles who will lay their nests, the hatchlings who will take their first swim in the sea, and all other animals with whom we share our home.

Last week we headed to the Caribbean to implement the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP) across the main island of Puerto Rico and on the island of Vieques. We worked with our Responsible Pier Initiative partners at Black Beard Sports and Ticatove to install cigarette ash receptacles, reinstall Sea Turtle Safe Project SHIELD signs at popular dive spots and even made time for an underwater cleanup. Trip highlights are below.

Day 1: Upon arriving in San Juan, we grabbed lunch and headed northeast to Ceiba.

Day 2: After a successful first day, we began the next day in the oldest settlement within Puerto Rico  – Viejo (Old) San Juan.

Day 3: We packed up our tools and supplies and headed to the San Juan International Airport for an 11 a.m. flight to the nearby island of Vieques. We’ve been working in Puerto Rico for the past two years. Based on our experiences, if something is going to go wrong on a trip, it’s going to happen in San Juan (we call it the San Juan curse). However, everything to this point was going as planned – we accomplished all that we set out to do and were ahead of schedule.

We boarded our flight for the quick 20-minute ride to Vieques and were on our way.

After being in the air for nearly 40 minutes, we began our descent, but to our surprise, we were not landing in Vieques! It was not until we were on the ground, doors open, that the captain told us we had to turn around and head back to San Juan due to bad weather. The San Juan curse got us again! So we headed back to the airport and waited for the weather to clear up. Less than an hour later, we were on our way back to Vieques.

Day 1: We began our time in Vieques by installing cigarette ash receptacles at 9 pavilions at Playa Caracas – one of the locals’ favorite beaches. We were joined by Cristina of Black Beard Sports and Ticatove.

Next we headed to Mosquito Pier. We last visited Mosquito Pier in December 2015 when we installed Project SHIELD signs at the popular dive location. Cristina informed us that the fence where we hung the signs was falling down and we may need to find a new location. We checked out the site and agreed that the signs needed to be relocated.

After deciding that our only option would be to build our own posts, we headed off to the local hardware store.

Mosquito Pier is the most popular dive and snorkel site on the island of Vieques. Each day, local shops bring divers and snorkeler of all levels to enjoy the diverse marine ecosystems found in the area, including sea turtles, corals, tropical fish and even the occasional dolphin. By installing signs near the entry point, we have the potential to spread environmental education and conservation best practices to thousands of visitors each year.

We finished up the day by installing cigarette ash receptacles in popular fishing locations on Mosquito Pier.

Mosquito Pier

Cigarette ash receptacle installed on Mosquito Pier.

Day 2: We woke up early to join Cristina at Mosquito Pier for an underwater cleanup.

We spent the rest of the day coordinating future projects and preparing for our early flight back to Florida the next day.

VAL Flight

Leaving Vieques

Hasta luego, Vieques!