In 2013, we saw much success in collaborating with recreational fishermen through LMC’s Responsible Pier Initiative. This year we plan to expand our reach to recreational boaters through the launch of the Responsible Boater Initiative.

The Responsible Boater Initiative is a program geared towards recreational boaters in South Florida to promote clean, safe boating, fishing and diving practices as it relates to threatened and endangered sea turtles. The initiative will include a “Safe for Sea Turtles” workshop for boaters, educational signage for participating marinas and boat docks, along with personal monofilament recycling containers, marine life resource packet, waterproof/ salt-resistant marine life ID guide, and a “Safe for Sea Turtles” swag  bag for each workshop participant.

We have submitted a funding proposal to the BoatUS Foundation for this project and found out this week that our application has been accepted to move on to the Public Voting phase.

What does this mean?

Beginning on March 15th, our project summary, along with pictures, will be posted on the Foundation’s website and Facebook page for the public to vote on. The projects with the most votes at the end of the voting period (March 29th) will be funded.

How you can help

We need your vote! The morning of the 15th, we’ll post the links to the voting website and Facebook page. The links will be posted on Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts along with here on the Conservation Blog. Please vote for our project and share the links with your social and professional networks. This is a very important project that we truly believe will make an immediate difference in sea turtle conservation in South Florida.

Thank you for your support! Stay tuned for more information regarding the Responsible Boater Initiative.

Basking Honu

In Florida, the only time that a sea turtle naturally comes on the beach is when adult females are nesting, and even then, it’s strictly business. They crawl out of the ocean, dig their nest, lay their eggs, and return to the water-the whole process takes about an hour. There are times when we find sea turtles on the beach during the day (not nesting); however, this is a sure sign that something is wrong and considered a “stranding.” Typically, the turtle is then taken back to our hospital for an evaluation and rehabilitation.

Just as people’s behaviors differ in different areas of the world, so does sea turtles. I had the chance to witness this first hand this past week while spending time in Maui. It may come as a surprise to many to learn that Hawaiian green turtles (honu) crawl onto shore to simply “bask”, a behavior where sea turtles crawl ashore for purposes other than nesting.  I had the opportunity to work with the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund’s (HWF) Honu Watch Project to help monitor the basking honu (turtles) and educate beach goers.

It felt surreal to observe sea turtles (both male and female) of all sizes crawl out of the water to bask on the beach. We counted over 30 the evening I was there and they kept coming out. Possible reasons for the basking behavior is that it allows the turtles to rest, regulate their body temperature, and avoid predators (sharks).

Sea turtles are extremely vulnerable while basking. It’s important to remember that they are protected by the same laws protecting our sea turtles in Florida (Federal Endangered Species Act). If you happen to be visiting the Hawaiian Islands and come across a basking honu (turtle), please follow the following guidelines:

  • Please do not approach closer than 15 ft.
  • Avoid flash photography, as the flash disturbs them.
  • Keep dogs on a leash as they can injure the turtles.

Just like LMC, The Hawai’i Wildlife Fund (HWF) depends heavily on volunteers and interns to fulfill it’s mission. Information regarding both programs can be found here on their website.

Responsible Fishing Practices

There’s a good chance that you’ve already heard about one of the recent arrivals at LMC’s sea turtle hospital, Meghan, an olive ridley sea turtle. The turtle is receiving tremendous attention as it’s not typically found in the waters off Florida. It’s primarily found in the warm, sub-tropical and tropical waters of the South Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. In the South Atlantic, they are found along the Atlantic coasts of West Africa and South America.  Additionally, this species of sea turtle has never been reported to strand this far north, and is only the fourth olive ridley stranding ever in the state of Florida.

The turtle was found by beach goers on Lantana Beach, entangled in a fishing net, struggling in the surf. Each year about one in four sea turtle patients treated in LMC’s hospital have injuries due to fisheries interactions.

What can the average recreational fisherman do to help?

  • Eat sustainably caught seafood. See Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Guide.
  • Do not litter! Properly dispose of all fishing debris and waste responsibly.
  • Reduce wildlife injuries by tending to your fishing lines. Be especially aware while on piers, jetties and other bird feeding areas.
  • Only catch sufficient fish for your immediate needs. Release all others using best practice “catch and release” techniques.
  • Use environmentally responsible tackle, such as lead alternative sinkers, biodegradable line, and non-stainless hooks, when possible.
  • Immediate release of non-targeted species. All native fish have a role in the local ecosystem.
  • Participate and promote beach clean-up events to help prevent debris from ending up in the ocean.
  • Participate and promote underwater clean-up events.

What if you accidentally hook a sea turtle?

  1. Safely remove the animal from the water.
  2. If in the state of Florida, Contact Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) (1-888-404-FWCC) or Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) (561-603-0211)
  3. Wait for further instructions from FWC or LMC.
  4. If outside the state of Florida, contact your local sea turtle stranding network or response team.
  5. Do not attempt to remove ingested fishing hooks or entangled fishing line on your own. Often times this can cause additional injury to the turtle.
  6. Place turtle in a bin and/or cover with a damp towel. Do not place turtle in a bin full of water while waiting for help to arrive.
  7. Control heavy bleeding by applying direct pressure.

What if you observe an injured sea turtle at sea?

  1. If in the state of Florida, contact FWC (1-888-404-FWCC) directly.
  2. Do not attempt to rescue the turtle in deep water as this can potentially result in further injury to the animal and rescuer.
  3. If outside the state of Florida, contact your local sea turtle stranding network or response team.

Print

Sea turtle nesting season in SE Florida begins on March 1st and ends on October 31st. LMC biologists monitor 9.8 miles of beach from south Jupiter Island through Juno Beach. This area marks one of the most important nesting beaches in the world for loggerhead sea turtles. In addition to the loggerhead, both leatherback and green turtles nest locally.

Each morning, at first light, LMC biologists hit the beach and document the sea turtle crawls and nests from the night before. If you live in the North Palm Beach area and frequent the beach, I’m sure you’ve seen sea turtle crawls and the stakes marking the nests covering our beaches.  But, what you may not know is that those stakes only represent about 10% of the nests on the beach! Although only 10% of the nests are marked by a staked, the GPS coordinates for each one is recorded and monitored daily. In 2013 there was almost 13,000 nests in our survey area-if all were staked, it would not leave much room for beach goers.

2013 also marked a record year for green turtle nests in the state of Florida as well as on our beaches locally. Our team documented almost 4,700 nests! The previous record was 1,926 in 2010. For a more in-depth look at the 2013 sea turtle nesting season, see the above infographic.

2013 Trash Tally

Last week we wrapped up our final two marine debris clean-ups of 2013. On Wednesday, in collaboration with Jupiter Dive Center, we removed 71 lbs. of fishing debris from beneath the Juno Beach Fishing Pier and another 115 lbs. of debris was removed from Juno Beach on Saturday during the Blue Friend Society monthly beach clean-up.

Since 2011, LMC has removed over 7,000 lbs. of debris from local beaches and waterways through our monthly beach clean-ups and quarterly pier clean-ups. Over 2,700 lbs. was removed in 2013.

It is estimated that each year, over 100 million marine animals are killed due to plastic (marine) debris ingestion or entanglement, including sea turtles. At LMC, we are committed to battling the growing issue of marine debris. In 2014, we are planning to expand our efforts locally through increased clean-up efforts and state wide through the Responsible Pier Initiative. Please see below for additional ways that you can make a difference and help save the lives of sea turtles.

How can you help?

  • Participate in local beach and waterway clean-up events. (LMC’s Blue Friend Society hosts monthly beach clean-ups on the third Saturday of each month).
  • Use reusable bags instead of plastic bags
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Dispose of trash properly)
  • Don’t release balloons in the air. They’re often mistaken for food (jellyfish) by sea turtles.
  • Limit use of disposable products
  • Educate others and spread the word!

Sea Turtle Hatchling Release

The seas finally settled down this week, allowing us to head offshore and release (what should be) our final batch of sea turtle hatchlings for the season. We boarded Jupiter Dive Center’s Republic IV and headed out the Jupiter Inlet in search of the sargassum weed line.

Each year, the sea turtle hospital at LMC treats hundreds of sea turtle hatchlings that weren’t strong enough to make it offshore on their own. The life of a baby sea turtle is a challenging one. Upon hatching there are many obstacles and predators they must immediately overcome on the beach such as crabs, birds, and raccoons; along with man-made obstacles like holes or sand castles. Once they reach the ocean, sea turtle hatchlings begin a “swim frenzy,” of continuous non-stop swimming for up to 24 hours. The “swim frenzy” gets the hatchlings out of the dangerous nearshore waters and into the sargassum sea weed, where they will spend the first few years of their life.

It is believed that about 1 out of 5,000 sea turtles hatchlings will make it to adulthood. Our hope is that by releasing the turtles directly in the sargassum weed line we are able to increase these odds and help the survival of the species.

Thank you to Jupiter Dive for your ongoing help and support!

Responsible Pier Initiative

The Responsible Pier Initiative (RPI) was officially launched in August 2013. It’s a first-of-it’s-kind program in the state of Florida and is designed as a collaborative tool to work directly with fishermen and fishing piers to promote a healthy environment for sea turtles and other marine life.

The initiative consists of three main components:

  1. Educational Workshops for sea turtle stranding first-responders which provide action steps to follow in the event a sea turtle is accidentally hooked, becomes entangled or strands on or around a fishing pier.
  2. Educational signage is installed on fishing piers and provides information for fishermen and pier goers on the appropriate steps to follow in the event a sea turtle is accidentally hooked, becomes entangled or strands on or around a fishing pier
  3. Underwater cleaning beneath fishing piers and surrounding areas on a regular basis to remove potential threats to sea turtles, such as debris and monofilament line.

Juno_pier_infographic 2013

We launched the RPI as a pilot program at the Juno Beach Fishing Pier in 2012 and have already seen positive results. Most importantly, it’s provided an opportunity for us to open the lines of communication with the local fishing community and sea turtles are being saved. We’ve also noticed a reduction in marine debris at the Juno Pier-let’s hope it continues!

In addition to the Juno Pier, both the Lake Worth Fishing Pier and the Dania Beach Fishing Pier have recently committed to the RPI as well and are currently displaying the educational signage and performing regular underwater clean-ups. There are also several fishing piers on Florida’s west coast and panhandle committed to coming on board in January 2014.

We are optimistic about the success of the RPI and continue to receive tremendous support from the community and our conservation partners.  We are currently working to expand the program state wide in 2014.