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.

A few weeks ago, I went down the street to the Juno Beach Pier to deliver some sea turtle rescue supplies to the staff – a new rescue bin, towels, laminated instructions.  I was showing the new supplies to Meg, the Senior Pier Attendant, when I heard something hopping in the pet carrier on the floor.

“Meg, who’s in there?”Osprey

It was an osprey pier staff had disentangled that morning.  As soon as Meg was done checking on the bait house, she drove the osprey to the local rescue facility, Busch Wildlife Sanctuary.  She said they often disentangle birds caught in monofilament line on the pier.  On any given day, pelicans, cormorants, crows, terns, gulls, and many other species of sea and shorebirds are hanging around the pier, waiting to take some unused bait or fresh catch from an angler’s line.

This morning, we installed new shorebird rescue signage on the Juno Beach Pier.  Now, any angler that accidentally entangles or hooks a bird while fishing will know exactly how to rescue the animal and the emergency phone numbers to call for help.

The pier was very busy this morning, anglers filling the spaces along the rails and surfers in the water waiting for the next break.  We had to ask a few of the regulars to step to the side while we installed the new signage under the shade shelters along the pier.  While I was nervous they would not appreciate their fishing being interrupted, several asked questions about what we were doing and one local man even lent a helping hand to make sure the signs were straight.

Collaboration with the fishing community is the backbone of all the conservation work we are doing at our pier and the other participating piers around the country.  It was encouraging to see such a simple sign of partnership at the pier today.

ShorebirdSignage

If you see a hooked or entangled shorebird, please call FWC at 888-404-3922.

You can help prevent shorebird interactions while fishing by following the tips below:

  • Don’t feed birds extra bait or fish carcasses.
  • Properly dispose of excess and unwanted fishing line as well as other trash.
  • Don’t leave poles unattended.
  • Cover bait and don’t dump it on the ground.
  • Cast with care. Do not cast near a bird or near areas where your line may get caught.

Responsible Boating Practices

ResponsibleBoating

Injuries from boat strikes are a case we see far too often at LMC.  While you’re enjoying the holiday weekend, please be mindful of the marine life we share the waterways with.  Below are some tips for responsible boating.

  • Always check the surrounding area before turning the engine on. It helps to wear polarized sun glasses so you can see animals beneath the surface.
  • Abide by posted speed limits.
  • Follow channel markers. Do not anchor or motor over sea grass beds.
  • Avoid boating through patches of floating sargassum seaweed, as this serves as valuable habitat for sea turtle hatchlings and many other species of marine life.
  • Securely stow all trash while underway.
  • If you encounter a healthy sea turtle, please observe from a safe distance. Avoid disrupting the animal’s natural behavior.
  • If you spot an injured sea turtle, please call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) immediately at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or you may dial *FWC or #FWC on your mobile phone.  Once you have contacted FWC, you can also call LMC’s 24-hour emergency response number: 561-603-0211.

Nesting season is still active on our coast.  Many adult turtles are coming in to shore and thousands of hatchlings are making their way out to sea.  Please use caution and boat responsibly.

Have a great weekend!

salamander

Over the past few years, we’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with some very inspiring people and organizations across the globe, dedicated to the conservation of the natural world. We’ve decided to invite some of these people to share their stories and projects with all of you. The first guest blog is written by Nathan Weaver. Thank you, Nathan!

Nathan is a wildlife biologist and is near completion of his Master’s degreenweaver at Clemson University in South Carolina. He is interested in the intricate role that humans play in the environment. As a wildlife biologist he seeks answers to the question, “How can man and nature coexist?” understanding that we are not separate from nature, but fully part of it. He has worked with salamanders, sea turtles, hawks, mice, and prairie dogs. Nathan loves to run, swim, and eat “good ole North Carolina BBQ.”

All water flows downhill. The ocean is downhill from everything. These may seem like obvious statements, but the implications of what they mean are often overlooked. Water that flows over the land from near and far can influence marine ecosystems. Today I’m going to talk about urbanization both away from and along the coast.

Urbanization is increasing across the southeastern United States, often near bio-diverse areas like mountains or the ocean. My current research focuses on urbanization in the southern Appalachian Mountains. I am interested in determining how retirement/vacation homes in the mountains influence the quality of Appalachian streams. We know that this form of urbanization has negative impacts on streams, but we want to know if they can recover with time. I’m also interested in knowing exactly what factors lead to their recovery. We do this by studying stream salamander populations, water chemistry, and vegetation in developments of different ages. We’re finding, along with other researchers, that maintaining some kind of forested buffer is essential in preserving the integrity of the streams. To some degree a good forest buffer can mitigate the harm that a development may do. Changes in headwater streams can lead to changes in downstream rivers, which all flow to the ocean.

A tale of two streams: Both streams are in urban areas of similar size near Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

I’m sure you can think of lots of urban areas near the ocean. When cities, or even dense housing developments, encroach on the ocean there are several things that occur. Much of our coastal land is marsh that is important habitat, but also serves as a buffer against sea level rise during storms. In order to build near coastal areas, these marshes have to be filled in. Development also causes sedimentation. This sediment washes down to the ocean and causes the water to become cloudy, blocking sunlight over kelp beds and coral reefs. This reduction in sunlight decreases photosynthesis, which means less plants, which means less animals!

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t allow development. It’s just important to consider the potential costs of each project. Also, we should encourage urban planners, politicians, and developers to use best management practices and SCIENCE to inform development policies and regulations.

You can read more about Nathan’s work on his blog, found here.