I’d like to introduce our Fall 2017 Conservation Intern, Vanessa Morris.  A native of Swainsboro, GA, Vanessa recently graduated from Armstrong State University in Savannah, and has been working with LMC since January.  Her main project this semester is managing all monofilament recycling bins in Palm Beach County.  She coordinates with volunteers checking the bins, empties the line when the bins are full, cleans and recycles the line, and repairs broken bins when necessary. She is also helping to sort and log hundreds of pounds of garbage collected from beach cleanups, recording boat speed data in the local area, and teaching responsible fishing methods to young anglers.

Although her sweet southern drawl is so thick that sometimes, we have to ask her to ‘spell that,’ she has quickly become an invaluable part of the team.  Her dedication and consistent positive attitude have won over everyone at the center.

Vanessa will be sharing an update on the county’s monofilament bins this week.  Stay tuned to learn more.

Each spring, LMC holds our annual TurtleFest event.  We shut down Loggerhead Park to host artists, merchants, musicians, food and drink vendors, and conservation partners for a day-long festival to promote our mission and engage the community in the work we do.

This year, we had a few changes in mind.  While all of the most-loved festival components will still be featured, we are working hard to eliminate single-use plastics, greatly reduce the amount of waste produced, and improve the overall sustainability of the event.  Staff and volunteers will be inviting guests to participate in the conservation conversation throughout the day.

You can help by:

  • bringing your own water bottle or purchasing a TurtleFest 2017 one
  • bringing your own shopping bags
  • bringing a bucket and joining a morning beach cleanup
  • bringing a mat or towel and joining a yoga class
  • carpool with friends or ride your bike – a volunteer will oversee the bike valet for the duration of the event
  • choosing a vegetarian option at the festival – veggie burgers, falafel, grilled veggie sandwiches, pizza and more will be available

We speak to more than 10,000 people at TurtleFest every year.  This year, we hope that every single guest will leave with the knowledge of at least one way to protect the environment.  Together, we can make better choices each day.  Together, we can begin to reverse the 8 million tons of plastic pollution entering the ocean every year.  Together, we can live a bit more gently and pass along a cleaner, healthier Earth to the generations that will follow.

We hope to see you at TurtleFest this year.  The event will be held on March 25 from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM at LMC and Loggerhead Park.  Please email Demi at dfox@marinelife.org with any questions.

The first two Saturdays of every month, LMC’s Juno Beach Pier staff leads Kid’s Fishing Programs to teach young anglers responsible fishing practices.

During their lessons, the students learn basics such as the various types of fishing rods, how to tie knots, how to bait their hooks, and how to cast from the pier.  Especially important for us, are the conservation measures instilled.  After a brief lesson in the classroom, we walk the half-mile from the center to the pier collecting trash accumulated in the wrack line along the way.  Our students are always amazed by the amount of trash they can gather in a short, 15-minute walk.  Once at the pier, staff focus on habitat protection, sea turtle rescue, the proper way to remove hooks and release fish, and the importance of recycling monofilament fishing line.

The last couple of lessons, our newest responsible anglerKFPs haven’t had much luck at the pier.  Thankfully, the regulars, some of whom fish on the Juno Beach Pier every single day, are happy to help inspire the next generation.  They can tell – by the wind, the weather, the season – what species of fish will be running and exactly where to catch them.  If they notice a fishing class on the pier, they call us over when they have a fish on the line.  They help the students reel the fish in, remove the hook, and allow the children to take a few quick pictures proudly holding ‘their’ catch.  The kids listen so carefully when the pier’s regulars are teaching them – they know there is a lot to learn.  At the end of the lesson, we thank the anglers for their help and leave them to their craft.

 

It is this kind of cooperation, passing on knowledge and traditions from seasoned anglers to kids who have never picked up a fishing rod before, that allows us to build relationships with the fishing community.   We rely on them to keep the pier environment clean and healthy and to help us rescue incidentally hooked sea turtles when necessary.  They know the environment best, they observe it every day, and we are grateful to have them on our team.

To register your child for a Kid’s Fishing Program or to book a Private Fishing Lesson (for children or adults), please contact Kate at kufford@marinelife.org.

At Loggerhead Marinelife Center, we host and support several cleanup activities.  Some are quarterly, some are monthly, some happen more frequently than that.  These include: Blue Friends Society Beach Cleanups, Deep Blue Yoga classes, Kid’s Fishing Programs, Jupiter Waves Beach Cleanups, Juno Beach Civic Association Beach Cleanups, underwater cleanups at the Juno Beach Pier, private groups, and special event cleanups.  Unfortunately, there is no shortage of garbage on the coast.

While we are sometimes discouraged by the amount of trash we find, ultimately, it is our driving motivation for planning more cleanups and working harder.  In a perfect world, we would no longer have to clean the beaches, but since we do, we are grateful that we have the platform, and the help, to do it.

Following each cleanup, LMC’s Sorting Team weighs each bag and empties the collected debris onto a tarp.  The trash is sorted into several specific categories, counted piece-for-piece, and recorded into our database.  Our hope is that by studying the trends in the amount and types of pollution that wash onto our beaches over time, we will be able to better understand where the trash is coming from and therefore, better prevent it from being there in the first place.

We find all kinds of things in the trash we sort: bottles, straws, toothbrushes, toys, wrappers, balloons, clothing.   But, the vast majority, no matter the time of year or location, is plastic.  Plastic does not biodegrade but instead photodegrades.  The sun breaks the plastic down into smaller and smaller pieces over time.  Some of these microplastics sink and some float enabling distribution throughout the water column.  They collect in ocean gyres and are all too often consumed by marine species from the bottom of the food chain to the top and every step in between.  Studies are currently being conducted on the human health repercussions of the plastic in our ocean.  The long-term effects are still unclear though recently, a study on cultured oysters being sold for human consumption found that one dietary serving (six oysters), would contain approximately 50 plastic particles (Van Cauwenberghe and Janssen 2014).

Cleanups are an important immediate solution that can greatly benefit marine life.  But, cleaning up a mess that is still flowing into the ocean every day won’t get us anywhere fast.  We can all take part in reversing this problem.  Take a look at any plastic item you use just once and throw away.  Can you replace it with a reusable version?  Share your ideas with us, we would love to hear from you!

Join us for upcoming cleanups:

  • Deep Blue Yoga class and cleanup: 2/11 at 7:30 AM
  • Kid’s Fishing Program: 2/11 at 8:00 AM
  • Jupiter Waves Beach Cleanup at Coral Cove: 2/12 at 9:00 AM
  • Blue Friends Society Beach Cleanup: 2/18 at 8:30 AM

Please contact Demi at dfox@marinelife.org for information on any of the above.

Van Cauwenberghe L, Janssen CR (2014) Microplastics in bivalves cultured for human consumption. Environ Pollut 193:65–70.

If you’ve gone shopping for accessories such as sunglasses or hair clips in the last 40 years, you are probably familiar with the ‘tortoiseshell’ pattern – mottled black and brown markings.  The original tortoiseshell products were made from the shells of hawksbill sea turtles.  Poaching and commercial exploitation of the turtles were among the most significant factors in the decline of the hawksbill population.

 

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Hawksbill sea turtle, Palm Beach County, FL. Photo: Alan Egan

 

Hawksbills, named for their ‘raptor-like’ beak, are well known for the distinct colors and patterns on their shells.  Unlike other sea turtle species, their carapace (top shell) is comprised of overlapping scutes (keratinized scales) which historically, have been used to make jewelry, jewelry boxes, combs, and other small, decorative items.  Although the international trade of hawksbill items was halted in 1973 due to CITES, the products are still being sold in markets across Latin America and the Caribbean today.

 

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Hawksbill sea turtle, Palm Beach County, FL. Photo: Alan Egan

 

The Too Rare To Wear campaign was developed to promote education and help eliminate the demand for turtle shell products by bringing conservation organizations, media partners, and tour operators together.  Loggerhead Marinelife Center is proud to join this coalition of conservation partners to share the educational message and assist with the global protection of hawksbill turtles.

For more information on the project, check out this video.

Take an active role in conservation by signing and sharing the pledge.

Please contact LMC’s Conservation Department with any questions.

Last week, the Executive Director of the Balloon Council wrote an opinion article for the Palm Beach Daily News directed at LMC’s Balloon Ban Initiative. The article suggests that the initiative is misguided and that balloons do not pose a real threat to sea turtles and other wildlife.  Our response, outlined below, will be published this weekend.

Mylar balloons are made from plastic and unfortunately, do not biodegrade. Although latex (whether natural or partially synthetic due to added artificial dyes or chemicals) does eventually degrade, it remains intact long enough to impact wildlife – sometimes up to six months, as stated by the Balloon and Party Professional Association.

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Although balloons did not make the 2015 Ocean Conservancy International Cleanup’s top 10 list of most common items found, balloons are in the top 20 list, and rank third in deadliest ocean trash, according to a 2015 study by the Ocean Conservancy and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).  In 2016, during Palm Beach County’s sea turtle nesting season, March 1 – October 31, Loggerhead Marinelife Center staff biologists collected 988 balloons along the 9.5 miles of beach we monitor for sea turtle nesting activity. Balloons and balloon ribbons are brought in from the beach following each cleanup we host.

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We are very fortunate to work on one of the most densely utilized sea turtle nesting beaches in the world.  Each year, LMC’s hospital staff treats hundreds of patients, many of whom have been impacted by marine pollution, such as balloons. When deflated, balloons resemble jellyfish, a common prey item for sea turtles and other marine species.

“If sea turtles or other animals ingest a balloon or balloon fragment, it can disrupt and harm the digestive system, and if untreated, can cause them to starve to death,” said Dr. Charles Manire, DVM, LMC’s Director of Research & Rehabilitation. “It is also possible for animals to become entangled in balloon strings, which can inhibit their ability to move or eat properly, or even strangle them.”

 

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One case of balloon ingestion treated at LMC was a juvenile green sea turtle, “Lil Nugget.” This turtle passed a large, blue balloon fragment through its intestine system before it was able to eat on its own. 

 

It is not the intention of Loggerhead Marinelife Center, or any environmental organization mentioned above, to cause economic suffering to families who rely on the sale of balloons.  We know that the industry will not change overnight but believe the time to investigate alternative solutions and shift the industry to aid in the protection of the marine environment, upon which we all depend, is long overdue.

If you have any questions on the Balloon Ban or any other conservation initiative, please contact LMC’s Conservation Department.

Last year, in an effort to reduce waste on campus and increase awareness of responsible practices, we established LMC’s Campus Sustainability Initiative. You may have noticed a few changes around the center and we are excited for much more progress in 2017.

2016 accomplishments include:

  • Providing reusable dishes for staff and volunteers. There are now plates, glasses, and forks in the Volunteer Lounge for everyone’s use. We are encouraging staff and volunteers to avoid bringing single-use plastics to campus.
  • LMC staff and volunteers have made a commitment to only use reusable water bottles on campus and in the Turtle Yard. An LMC reusable water bottle is now available as part of the volunteer uniform.
  • Eliminating single-use plastic water bottles from turtle releases and campus events.
  • Composting on campus.
  • Unsubscribing from catalogs sent to LMC to reduce paper waste.
  • Purchasing wash cloths for the Juno Beach Pier Bait House to reduce the use of paper towels.
  • Updating the LMC Facility Rental Guide to include sustainability procedures for interested guests.
  • Reducing paperwork for Jr. Marine Biologist Summer Camp students and parents.
  • Planting the LMC Green Turtle Vegetable Garden. Our garden, located off campus, includes varieties of lettuce and green peppers.  The garden was planted in November and the first harvest is just weeks away – an update on the garden will be coming soon!
  • Changing the plush sea turtles provided with LMC adoptions from turtles filled with plastic microbeads to turtles filled with non-plastic stuffing.
  • Eliminating individually wrapped candy from Turtleween and recycling over 60 pounds of Halloween candy wrappers from 20 local elementary schools. The wrappers were sent to TerraCycle and will be repurposed into new items such as school and office supplies.
  • Providing reusable tablecloths at the LMC Volunteer Holiday Party.
  • Improving LMC retail sustainability by reducing products with excess packaging and selling reusable lunch boxes and containers.
  • Eliminating paper usage from Jr. Vet Labs and Birthday Parties on campus.
  • Replacing the campus water fountain with a water bottle refill station. So far, it has saved over 50,000 single-use water bottles.
  • Installing a bike rack on campus to encourage alternative transportation.
  • Initiating an electronic records system for the sea turtle patients in the hospital.
  • Saving digital press clippings rather than paper copies.
  • Eliminating paper forms for staff expenses.

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Below are a few tips for steps you can take both on campus and off to live more sustainably every day, along with a couple of companies we like.

On Campus

  • Bring your reusable water bottle
  • Ride a bicycle or carpool to LMC
  • Remember to turn off the lights when you leave the restroom
  • Ask LMC’s volunteers how you can help protect sea turtles and the marine environment by making small changes at home
  • Check out the new sustainable items in the LMC Gift Store

At Home & Work

  • Replace plastic food storage bags with reusable containers
  • Buy a lunch box
  • Carry a reusable coffee thermos
  • Unsubscribe from unwanted catalogs
  • Replace paper towels with wash cloths
  • Limit water and energy usage
  • Replace paper copies with digital files
  • Carry bamboo or other reusable utensils to eliminate the need for plastic ones
  • Carry a reusable take-out container to eliminate the need for polystyrene ones
  • Always bring your reusable grocery bags to the store

We are lucky to have a platform that allows us to speak to hundreds of thousands of guests every year.  We are striving to make Loggerhead Marinelife Center an example for our community and we can only do so with the help of our dedicated staff, volunteers, and visitors.  Thank you for your efforts to share conservation messages and improve the health of our environment.  We can only make a change together, it’s up to all of us.

If you have any questions, please email Demi at dfox@marinelife.org.

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Balboa, a juvenile green sea turtle, arrived to the center with boat propeller injuries on its head and carapace.

“Who’s your favorite sea turtle patient?” A small child probed me for an answer while I was taking photos in the outdoor sea turtle hospital. I tried to politely avoid playing favorites, but the young girl rolled her eyes in demand of an answer. In an attempt to reassure me that it’s okay to have a favorite, she blurted out “Squash is my favorite. So, who is yours?” Although, I usually like to tell young impressionable conservationists that it’s impossible for me to select a favorite, I caved revealing that I have a special connection to Balboa

Balboa, a juvenile green sea turtle, arrived during my second week of working at Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC). On the day of the turtle’s arrival Dr. Charlie Manire notified me that we had just received a sea turtle with a boat strike injury. Before Balboa, I had never witnessed a sea turtle with a recent boat strike injury, nor had I fully envisioned how gruesome one would be in person. Found floating by Peanut Island in Riviera Beach, Balboa arrived to the center with a deep gash that ran across the turtle’s lower back exposing sensitive tissue and a thick scrape across its head. Because of the severity of the turtle’s wounds, Balboa was dry docked on and off for almost two months.

Unfortunately, Balboa is not the first nor last sea turtle patient that will arrive to the hospital with boat strike injuries. Balboa, Fritz, Rudder, and Judy are all current sea turtle patients who have suffered from boat strikes. All of the sea turtles mentioned, expect Fritz, have endured wounds to their carapaces. Unlike the other turtles, Fritz’s carapace was not split open, instead we suspect the turtle developed a “hump” in its carapace from being struck by a boat. These deformities in the carapace, often caused by boat strikes, are usually caused by an injury early in life that affects the proper growth of the carapace. In Fritz’s case, the injury has caused the turtle to develop a chronic buoyancy issue, which affects a turtle’s ability to dive and forage for food. The reason boat strikes or propeller injures are so detrimental is because “they can cause severe organ damage, loss of extremities, fractures, and paralysis. The spine and lungs are located just under the carapace (top shell) which makes them extremely susceptible to trauma leading to mortality.” explained Hospital Coordinator Nicole Montgomery, CVT. 

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Fritz, a juvenile green sea turtle, that was found with a deformed carapace. Our rehabilitation staff believes the deformity resulted from a boat strike.

Year after year, our hospital treats sea turtles with boat strike injuries – some more gruesome than others, yet all of them needing care from our hospital staff. After inquiring about Balboa, Director of Research and Rehabilitation Dr. Charlie Manire informed me that “boat strikes are some of the most gruesome injuries I have seen in sea turtles, are probably the most painful, and have some of the highest mortality rates of anything we see.”

Over time, Balboa’s wounds began to heal and the turtle was returned to the water, but the image of the initial severity of the wounds will never leave me. For decades our center, as well as other conservation organizations, have been spreading messages of sea turtle-safe boating, yet we still receive new patients. After witnessing a sea turtle with a fresh boat strike wound, you began to realize that awareness is not enough. In collaboration with our rehabilitation staff, Chief Conservation Officer Tommy Cutt and Outreach Coordinator Demi Fox determined that LMC needed to take our sea turtle-safe boating message to the next level. “Awareness is the first step in creating a change in behavior, but a societal change does not take full effect until policies or initiatives are implemented.” said Chief Conservation Officer Tommy Cutt.

In an effort to reduce the amount of boat strike injuries we see at our hospital, this year our conservation team developed a Voluntary Speed Reduction Zone (VSRZ) initiative (under Project SHIELD) to take effect in waterways off the coast of Florida during sea turtle nesting season. On Florida’s East Coast, the area from Tequesta to North Palm Beach is home to some of the most densely utilized sea turtle nesting beaches in the country.  Each year, from March 1 – October 31, tens of thousands of leatherback, loggerhead, and green sea turtles return to their natal beaches to lay their own eggs. Currently, offshore areas near sea turtle nesting beaches are not designated no-wake zones. During nesting season, female sea turtles spend an increased amount of time swimming near the water’s surface making them more susceptible to an interaction with a boat propeller or hull (Houghton et al. 2002). Our team believes “a voluntary speed reduction in this critical area will increase awareness of sea turtle conservation and could potentially lead to a significant decrease in interactions with recreational boats in the state,” said Chief Conservation Officer Tommy Cutt.

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Under Project SHIELD, the Voluntary Speed Reduction Zone (VSRZ) project will take effect in waterways off the coast of Florida during sea turtle nesting season.

 

With the support of Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida and Florida Fish and Wildlife Services, the VSRZ will be executed in three phases over the course of the next few years. In 2017, the VSRZ will focus on data collection to determine an appropriate voluntary speed. The speed restriction will be set as a safe speed for sea turtles while not significantly impacting the business of tour operators in areas critical to sea turtle nesting success. Outreach Coordinator Demi Fox informed us that LMC staff and Conservation interns “will use a long-range laser speed detection system and binoculars to record data from three pre-determined collection points on a daily basis at three different time blocks.” Since the voluntary speed will be set based on data collection, the project will critically depend on the assistance of volunteers, interns, and staff.

Our rehabilitation and conservation staff firmly believe that the VSRZ will significantly decrease the number of boat strike cases, like Balboa. However, this initiative cannot take full effect without your help. We need dedicated Conservation interns and volunteers who are willing to be more than sea turtle advocates. We need passionate conservationists looking for an active way to make a difference. We need you!

If you are an individual compelled to be on the front-line of change, please apply now to be a Conservation intern

*This project will require the help of several Conservation interns. Conservation interns will assist with various aspects of the Voluntary Speed Reduction Zone project, including data collection.

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.