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Last week, I joined Ocean Conservancy (OC) in Hong Kong for their International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting. The global event, hosted by The Hong Kong Cleanup and Ecozine, was held to bring ICC leaders and coordinators together to achieve the following goals:

  1. Celebrate 30 years of cleanups
  2. Share best practices from around the region
  3. Inspire greater coordination and communication between the regional network of cleanup partners
  4. Highlight innovative projects within the network

In celebration of 30 years of cleanups, we began the meeting by participating in a local beach cleanup. We hopped onto a bus and headed to the site, Stanley Beach. Once outside the city, the views of the coastline were stunning – in fact, when we arrived at the cleanup site, it was hard to imagine what awaited us on the beach below. We made our way down a steep, rocky path to the beach to find the shoreline covered in debris – in some spots, the debris was waist high. Although overwhelming at first, we split into teams and began to bag up the trash (making sure that we recorded all of our data in OC’s Clean Swell app). After about 1.5 hours, we managed to collect over 60 large trash bags of debris.

Hong Kong, an autonomous territory of China, is one of the world’s most significant financial centers. It’s also one of the world’s most densely populated states or territories with a population of over 7 million people in 427 square miles; however, just a small portion of that area is developed.

In addition, Hong Kong’s waste output every day is substantial:

  • Plastic bottles – > 1,368,000
  • Plastic bags – > 1,000 tons
  • Food waste – >3,200 tons

The challenges we witnessed in Hong Kong are far too common in other areas across the Pacific. Twenty-three representatives and leaders from across the region joined Ocean Conservancy staff members at the conference for three days of workshops, presentations, and panel discussions focused on sharing best practices and identifying long-term solutions.

Workshops included small group breakout sessions focused on how we can increase our global impact and plans to improve regional communication in the future. Attendees presented on best practices and local accomplishments. Topics included Tools for Increased Impact, Effective Communications and Digital Strategies, Cleanup Innovation, Educational Programs, Putting Zero Waste into Practice, and Network Expertise.

I joined Eben Schwartz, California Coastal Commission and Sivasothi N., University of Singapore for a panel discussion on “Turning Data into Policy,” where I shared experiences from our recently launched Balloon Ban program.

It was a pleasure to meet all of the other representatives at the meeting and learn about their incredible efforts to protect our oceans. I left Hong Kong truly inspired to do more with our marine debris efforts. I’m looking forward to follow-up discussions over the next few weeks to discuss potential new collaborations.

50 Piers & Counting

On Halloween day, we traveled north to Cocoa Beach to bring the Responsible Pier Initiative to its newest location. We had been working with our partners at the Brevard Zoo to organize a workshop for staff from the Sea Turtle Healing Center, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, the Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary, and the Cocoa Beach Pier and everything finally aligned on October 31.

The RPI has been steadily growing since its implementation on the Juno Beach Pier in 2013. To date, the initiative is responsible for the rescue of over 200 sea turtles and the removal of more than 8,000 pounds of marine debris. With the addition of the Cocoa Beach Pier, we are proud to say the RPI now has 50 participating locations!

CocoaBeachPier

The workshop attendees were eager to learn more about the initiative and practice using the rescue net. We even convinced our intern, Taylor, to be our ‘sea turtle.’* After the training’s conclusion, everyone stayed on the pier to ask questions, share stories of sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation, and celebrate the accomplishment together.  Cocoa Beach Pier is not only the RPI’s 50th pier, it is also Brevard County’s first.

With each new addition, we are learning more about how we can best work with the fishing community to protect sea turtles and keep the marine environment clean. We are continually inspired by the efforts put forth by our partners and the anglers fishing on the piers every day. In order to really protect the marine environment, we need help from the people who know it best.

We want to thank the anglers who watch the piers for us, who fish responsibly, report sea turtle interactions, recycle their monofilament line, clean up debris, and serve as examples for the next generation. In honor of reaching this 50-piers-milestone, LMC will offer a free day of fishing this Sunday, November 6, to the first 50 anglers at the Juno Beach Pier – where the RPI got its start.

We are so proud of the work we’ve been able to accomplish together.   50 fishing piers is just the beginning!

*No interns were harmed in the rescue demonstrations.

Proyecto Carey, Padre Ramos Natural Preserve.

 

Over the past few years at LMC, we’ve been working to expand our conservation efforts beyond Juno Beach. We’ve established many new programs and collaborations, but noticed that many organizations were in need of financial and on-the-ground support, which led to the development of S.W.I.M.

S.W.I.M., Serving the World’s Imperiled Marine Life, is a destination, eco-tour program that provides on-the-ground support to conservation organizations around the globe. We launched the program this year in three locations: Juno Beach, Florida, Maui, Hawaii, and Padre Ramos, Nicaragua.

Hannah and I began our journey to Padre Ramos on Wednesday morning; we had about 5 hours of flying time from Miami with a quick layover in Panama City. We arrived into Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, around midday.  Then, we had a 5-hour drive to the project site in Padre Ramos (located in the province of Chinandega in the NW corner of the country). We picked up a 4X4 truck, threw our gear in the back and were on our way.

The drive was beautiful; we passed through fields of peanuts and sugar cane and several small local villages, all with amazing mountainous views. About 2 hours into our drive, we met up with David Melero, one of the Project Managers we will be working with over the next ten days. David joined us to lead the way for the remainder of the trip, as the last 2.5 hours of the drive would be along dirt roads, through a primarily undeveloped region of the country.

 

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The road heading into the project site in Padre Ramos.

 

In Padre Ramos, we’re working with ICAPO (Iniciativa Carey Del Pacifico Oriental), a hawksbill sea turtle conservation nonprofit collaborating with a network of like-minded organizations in Pacific coastal regions of the Americas. David is the Project Manager for the site in Nicaragua as well as another location in El Salvador.

We arrived at the project site after dark that evening. The “field station” is a rustic, colonial-style home located on the beach of the estuary. We immediately felt at home. The house is set up family style, with large farm tables, hammocks overlooking the water, and sea turtle art spread throughout.

David introduced us to the crew (Aida, Daniella, and Danny) and the house pets, including a dog named “Chaparro,” two chickens, “Claro Que Si” and “Como no,” and a duck (who thinks he’s a chicken) named “Mogollon.” We were given a quick tour of the house and shown our rooms.

We woke up early the following morning, excited to start working. Over breakfast, David and Aida spent some time explaining the different aspects of the project, how they involve the community, and what we will work on during our time here.

It’s inspiring to learn how ICAPO has been able to transform a community that previously poached sea turtle eggs into a conservation success story. They provide jobs for local people to assist in various aspects of the program and incentives for additional community involvement (I’ll write another post on the incentive program soon).

So far we’ve had the opportunity to visit project sites, meet people working on the project, and witness the strong sense of pride and conservation engagement from the local community. Our guests arrive into Managua tonight. We have a great week planned and are looking forward to assisting with local conservation efforts.

Stay tuned for more updates throughout the week!

IMCC

Earlier this month, Tommy and I attended the 4th International Marine Conservation Congress hosted by the Society for Conservation Biology in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Scientists, conservationists, and policy makers from around the world gathered to share their research and the methods they use to protect ocean ecosystems.

Newfoundland

Fisheries, energy, climate, international treaties, tourism, and conservation planning were just a few of the topics addressed. The conference theme was, ‘Making Marine Science Matter,’ a subject we strive to address with each of our projects. We can conduct science for hundreds of years but it cannot affect change unless we can use our findings to communicate necessary conservation measures with decision makers and people who live and work on the ocean everyday.

Both the Responsible Pier Initiative and Project SHIELD were presented at the conference.  We were happy to share the Responsible Pier Initiative’s 49 pier partners and 195 rescued turtles and how Project SHIELD has grown from the RPI and already seen success in Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

We are very grateful to have presented our projects amongst such amazing work being done around the world. We learned a lot, caught up with colleagues, and formed new relationships that may lead to new projects in the future. We are excited for so many projects in the works right now. Stay tuned for updates coming soon.

Yesterday, May 1, marked the beginning of nesting season across many beaches in Florida and up the Atlantic Nesting loggerhead sea turtleCoastline, but here in Juno Beach, we are two months in – 60 leatherback nests and 92 loggerhead nests in to be exact.

We are lucky to share the beaches with these endangered species, but they leave us with a great responsibility to ensure the area is safe for the nesting females and the next generation of hatchlings making their way out to sea.

Below are some tips for keeping the beach clean and safe this nesting season:

  • Remove any lounge chairs, umbrellas, and other beach furniture from the beach overnight.
  • Knock down sand castles and fill in holes in the sand when leaving the beach.
  • If you live near a beach, turn off outdoor lights at night and close curtains after sunset to keep light pollution off the beach – artificial light can easily disorient nesting females and hatchlings.
  • Dispose of all trash and clean up any debris found on the beach.
  • Please do not participate in balloon releases.
  • If you see a nesting turtle, try not to disrupt her. Do not use any bright lights or flash photography and avoid creating loud noises. The best way to safely observe a sea turtle laying a nest is to join us for a Turtle Walk this June or July.
  • If you see healthy hatchlings, allow them to crawl to the ocean on their own.

We can only protect sea turtles and their nesting habitat if we all work together. If you have any questions about sea turtle nesting, please email dfox@marinelife.org.

 

On Sunday, Tommy and I began our journey to Lima, Peru to present the Responsible Pier Initiative and Project Shield at the 36th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation.

On our way, we stopped in Puerto Rico to install signage in two new locations. The first, a fishing pier in Old San Juan, is located in a tourism destination that attracts millions of visitors each year. Thanks to our collaborators at Puerto Rico’s Departmento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA), the pier is now home to a Responsible Pier Initiative sign and a monofilament recycling tube.

Gladys, our partner from Black Beard Sports in Vieques, met us in San Juan and drove us to our second location, the recently opened Black Beard shop in Ceiba, a small town on the east side of the island. Along the way, she pointed out some of the coast’s most popular beaches and fishing spots and shared stories of teaching hundreds of resident high school students about the local wildlife she spends so much time studying.

Yesterday, we led a First Responder workshop for the Black Beard staff and installed signage and monofilament tubes at a sea turtle nesting beach, a kayak launch, two fishing piers, and the Black Beard storefront. The staff tour guides start each program by providing a briefing for their clients. They cover local history, animals the group may encounter, and conservation measures. The staff can now point to Project Shield signage and demonstrate methods for protecting the local marine environment, a message we hope will stay with visitors long after they leave Ceiba.

As soon as we are back in the office, we will be working with the owners of Black Beard to launch LMC educational programs at Puerto Rican schools and Boys and Girls Clubs, a program that was brought to Vieques by Gladys herself.  We are so grateful for the support of our partners in Puerto Rico and their drive to serve as some of the first Project Shield ambassadors. We could not ask for more passionate, dedicated partners and look forward to all that we will accomplish this year.

Project SHIELD

In April this year, Tommy and I spent a few days in Vieques, Puerto Rico. We received word of an old Navy dock-turned-fishing-pier that was home to several hawksbill and green sea turtles, often accidentally entangled in monofilament line wrapped around the pier pilings. So, we packed our Responsible Pier Initiative signage and took our workshop on the road to Mosquito Pier, just as we had for the 29 piers that had come before it.

MosquitoPier

When we arrived, we quickly realized that this place was so much more than a few incidental entanglements. Since the Navy moved off the island in 2003, Viequense groups have been working hard to protect their coastlines and marine environments, off-limits to development for over 60 years.

We knew that there was more work to be done – and Vieques wasn’t the only place. Throughout the year, we have visited many beautiful destinations that experience some conservation issues that may not be visible at first sight. From our experiences, we created Project SHIELD, a multi-faceted program that provides conservation solutions to areas in need. While we will continue to instruct anglers and pier managers on responsible practices and sea turtle rescue, we have expanded our focus to include marinas, beach-side resorts and hotels, beach access points, fishing charter operators, and snorkel and SCUBA operators, as well as pollution prevention projects at various sites.

About a week ago, we returned to Puerto Rico to implement Project SHIELD. Signage depicting responsible practices is now hanging at both Escambrón Beach in San Juan and on Rompeolas, the land bridge to Mosquito Pier in Vieques.

We are incredibly proud to continue working in these areas. Our partners lead groups of Puerto Rico’s visitors on dives in important sea turtle habitat every day. They are knowledgeable and passionate about the place they live and they convey their sense of responsibility to the environment to hundreds of tourists each year. Now, when Black Beard Sports instructors walk their groups down the stairs into the water at Rompeolas, they can point to Project SHIELD signage and encourage others to follow their lead in conservation. With Project SHIELD, we can work towards proactive plans to reduce the sometimes negative consequences of human presence in marine environments and, hopefully, inspire responsible behavior that will effect positive change along the way.

Rompeolas

 

In 2016, we will present project SHIELD at various conferences around the world, collaborate with new and existing partners, and expand the solutions we offer as we learn more about global sea turtle issues.

 

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Last Thursday, our sea turtle hospital received a call from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) about a post-hatchling turtle that was found washed up on the beach, covered in oil. The turtle, a small green, was found near the Lake Worth Fishing Pier by our colleagues at DB Ecological Services, while they were conducting their morning sea turtle nesting survey.

This was the second time in just as many days that a turtle stranded on our local beaches, covered in oil. Dr. Charlie and team knew that they would have to act immediately to remove the oil and begin treatment, in order for the turtle to have a chance of survival.  Oil poses a significant threat to all marine life, including sea turtles. Effects of oil can include burning of mucus membranes of the eyes and mouth, irritation or inflammation of the animal’s skin, respiratory irritation, organ damage, and even reproductive failure.

Dr. Charlie had his team prepare the necessary tools for oil removal, which included a bottle of household DAWN Dishwashing Detergent and several tooth brushes. DAWN dishwashing detergent has been used effectively by rehabilitation teams for many years to gently remove oil from birds, sea turtles, and other marine life. The detergent is effective at low concentrations and has the ability to remove most oils without further irritating an animal’s skin.

The hospital team was able to remove all of the oil from the turtle. After further examination, Dr. Charlie was able to confirm that there was only a small amount of oil in the turtle’s mouth and none appeared to be near the near the esophagus – the turtle did not appear to have ingested any oil

Following the removal of the oil, the turtle was administered fluids and later offered food (which it ate quickly). The turtle continues to receive treatment in our sea turtle hospital and Dr. Charlie is optimistic that it will make a full recovery. Unfortunately, without an evaluation from a petroleum engineer or chemist, we are unable to determine the source of the oil; however, it was most likely dumped from a boat offshore.

An estimated 50-75% of all life on Earth is found under the ocean’s surface. Thousands, if not millions, of marine species call the ocean home. It’s important for us all to make responsible decisions and be mindful of how each of our individual actions will impact the ocean ecosystem.

How can you help make a difference?

Educate others about the conservation of sea turtles and protecting our ocean.

Remove debris from local beaches and waterways.

Boat responsibly. More tips on responsible boating can be found here.

Support Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

Alex Gaos capturing "BarnacleBillie." Photo: Don Mcleish

Last week I had the opportunity to join Hawai’i Hawksbills, Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO) and members from NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on a mission to capture and tag Hawaiian hawksbill sea turtles.

Hawksbills are extremely rare within the Hawaiian Islands. In fact, in the 2 years that I’ve lived on Maui, I’ve only observed them while assisting HWF’s, Cheryl King with beach nesting work. Up until last week, I hadn’t seen one underwater while snorkeling/diving in Hawai’i.

Cheryl has been leading HWF’s Hawksbill Recovery Project since 2000. Along with her community network of hawksbill enthusiasts, she has gathered information and now knows the “hot spots” to find them, can identify them on site (based on their unique scute pattern), and each one has been named accordingly. For instance, “Rocket Girl” has a scale that’s shaped like a rocket on the top of her head. “Misty” has a partially colored scale as if it was disappearing into the “mist.”  “Barnacle Billie” had a heavy load of barnacles growing on her when she was first sighted.

The hawksbill turtle is small to medium-sized when compared to the other sea turtle species. They are easily recognizable by their raptor-like beak and the beautiful, dark to golden brown, overlapping scutes on their shell. Adults grow to 200 – 250 lbs. and are most commonly found in areas associated with healthy coral reefs. Hawksbill turtles are listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The team is studying Hawaiian hawksbills to try and gain a better understanding of its population abundance and trends. The population in Hawai’i is especially small with fewer than 100 adult females known to nest in the entire archipelago. Hawksbills are known to nest on the main island beaches of Hawai’i, primarily the south coast of the Big Island; however, much is still unknown about the in-water population. Studies such as this are extremely important to gain a better understanding of a distinct population of sea turtles, allowing for the development of an effective
management plan.

We packed our gear, food, and water, boarded the boat and hoped for good weather.
We headed to the known “hot spot” on the island for hawksbills – just a quick 10 minute boat ride. Anyone that has spent time on the ocean around Maui knows the weather offshore can be unpredictable with windy conditions common each day beginning at ~11 am. We arrived at our spot around 9 and the water looked perfect, top – bottom visibility and just a small surface shop. Cheryl had been receiving word that five of the well-known turtles had been seen in this area over the past couple of weeks. It was decided that we should jump in and take a quick look around to a few of the known resting areas prior to beginning our actual surveys (swimming line transects).

Most of us spend the majority of our “work time” at a desk and behind a computer, so we were all anxious to jump in the water and start our search. The ocean has been much warmer than usual this fall – which is good if you’re one that gets cold easily; however, this has caused widespread bleaching across the island’s coral reefs.

We spent about 30 minutes looking around the area before deciding to return to the boat to driv
e further north to begin our thorough survey of the whole reef. We were all back on the boat except for Alex, a visiting hawksbill scientist (ICAPO). We spotted him in the water, quite a bit north of the rest of us, when he gave the sign. Alex had spotted the first hawksbill turtle of the day! Once he knew he had our attention, he disappeared underwater soon to return with a large, adult hawksbill in his hands. We were all ecstatic having only been on the water for 30 minutes and already the first turtle was captured. We brought the turtle onto the boat and Cheryl immediately identified her as “Rocket Girl”. She then contacted Don McLeish, who has documented her more than anyone, so he could swim out to the boat from shore to see her. The tagging team got to work and the rest of us couldn’t wait to get back in the water to find more hawksbills! It always boosts morale to find success early in a mission.

The first day of tagging was the most successful; all three hawksbills named above that were found were caught and tagged. All captured turtles received a pit tag (microchip similar to what would be used in a dog or cat), external metal flipper tags (identification, similar to a piercing) along with a satellite tag. Satellite tags help scientists gain an understanding of the movement of sea turtles. When the turtle swims to the surface to breathe, the tags transmit a signal that can be detected by polar orbiting satellites and then send in-water data that otherwise wouldn’t be able to be obtained (migration routes, dive profiles, ocean temperature, etc.).

Post-nesting females have been tagged and tracked by these groups on Maui and Hawai‘i Island, but this is the first time in history that in-water captures were outfitted with satellite transmitters in Hawai`i. Despite nearly 3 full days of more searching, no new hawksbill turtles were spotted. This shows how rare they are, and how challenging it can be to find them.  It takes a lot of planning, an efficient network, a team of experts, and good ocean conditions! The team remained satisfied after such a productive day one. And besides, any day that can be spent snorkeling on beautiful coral reefs looking for sea turtles, is a good one.

To learn more about Hawai’i Hawksbill’s Hawksbill Recovery Project, click here.

To learn more about ICAPO’s work in the Eastern Pacific, click here.

To learn more about the NOAA Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center, click here.