June is a busy month for marine awareness. World Oceans Day is celebrated on June 8 and World Sea Turtle Day is June 16. This year there was a concerted effort to celebrate sea turtle week during the time between those two dates. The website www.seaturtleweek.com and the hashtag #seaturtleweek were used to coordinate efforts to increase knowledge about these amazing marine reptiles.
As local beachgoers probably know, we are well into sea turtle nesting season. That officially began on May 1 and will run through the month of October. I would like to thank all of the sea turtle patrol volunteers. They get up early in the morning during nesting season to check for and protect new sea turtle nests on our beaches. Sea turtles have long lifespans, but the odds for an individual sea turtle hatchling’s survival are not good. Scientists estimate that only about one out of one thousand hatchlings will survive to become an adult.
To put that into perspective, a female sea turtle lays an average of 100 eggs at a time in a nest. Depending on the species, she may lay up to seven nests in a season. She may nest every two to three years. Based on the odds, she will need to go through two or three nesting seasons with only one offspring expected to survive the 20-30 years until adulthood.
Many of the threats that influence sea turtle survival are natural (predators, disease, temperature, storms, etc.) However, humans have the ability to control the threats that we create. These include improper disposal of plastic waste. Sea turtle hospitals, including our local Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory, often receive washback sea turtles to rehabilitate before they can be transported out to the Gulf Stream for release. These young hatchlings tend to get blown back to shore by storms. While recovering, it is common for caregivers to observe pieces of plastic excreted by these turtles. This shows that even in their first weeks of life, sea turtles are prone to eat plastic.
What can the average coastal resident or visitor do to help protect sea turtles? Try to use washable alternatives to single-use (disposable) items. You can find some suggestions at http://bit.ly/plasticpledge or www.plasticfreejuly.org. When at the beach, fill in any holes you have dug and flatten sandcastles before you head home. Nesting females or hatchlings can fall into holes or expend valuable energy navigating obstacles when crawling up or down the beach. Please do not release balloons—in time, these will fall back to the ground and often end up washing into the ocean. Balloons and plastic bags are eaten by sea turtles who mistake them for jellyfish. If you see trash on the ground or at the beach, please pick it up and dispose of it properly.