Featured Image Credit: John Strangelove
By: Laura Lillycrop
Every year, hundreds of thousands of hatchling sea turtles rise from their nests along the coast and enter the Atlantic Ocean.
Unfortunately, approximately one in 1,000 will survive to maturity. Those are minuscule odds. Today, all sea turtles found in U.S. waters, except for the threatened Loggerhead, are listed as federally endangered.
In their natural environment, sea turtles face a swarm of life and death hardships from the moment they are laid on beaches. Predators such as crabs, raccoons and ants ravage eggs and hatchlings still in the nest. If the remaining turtles survive, these hatchlings become a bite-sized picnic for those lurking in the ocean such as birds, crabs and sharks.
While the natural obstacles faced by these hatchlings are astronomical, it is the rising threats caused by humans that are bringing them to the brink of extinction.
Slaughtered for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells, sea turtles have provided a source of food for those in Central America and Asia for many years. They also face habitat destruction and capture due to commercial fishing techniques.
However, human use of nesting beaches can be a leading force in causing harmful impacts to nesting turtles, incubating eggs, and hatchlings. While pollution is a top competitor, sometimes the innocent things we leave behind after our beach trip can be deadly.
Some comfortable chairs, an umbrella, a bucket, and a few shovels are all the things that help make the ideal beach day. But a fun day could turn into a unsafe night for these endangered species. What humans leave behind can pose serious threats to a turtle and it’s usually what people don’t think about that can hurt them the most.
For example, while digging and building sandcastles may be fun at the time, remembering to make sure it is filled in or destroyed before leaving the beach for the day is a large issue among beachgoers.
It is commonly thought that the water washes sandcastles away at night. However, sandcastles or dug-up holes that are situated further from the shoreline may not be subject to this fate.
Taking the extra step to remove any manmade sand decorations helps to eliminate the challenges that baby hatchlings must overcome on their way to the shoreline. Holes in the sand can be like the Grand Canyon and sand castles like Mount Everest to a newly hatched sea turtle, so clear the way!
Sand artist and Fort Lauderdale resident, Todd Brittingham, did not get this memo when he created a giant “Ouroborus” by digging trenches in the sand in front of the International Palms Resort in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
As part of Earth Day Festivities, the “sky art” design was only meant to last the weekend. However, come Monday morning, residents began posting photos and informing Florida Fish & Wildlife that the trenches had not been filled.
Since a trench only a few inches deep can capture all types of sea turtle hatchlings, this art piece went against Cocoa Beach’s municipal code to dig holes that are more than eighteen inches deep. Also, due to his departure from the area without having completely filled the trench, Brittingham now faces fines by both Cocoa Beach and the State of Florida.
While everyone can do their part to help protect these sea turtles, not everyone can be out on the beach 24/7 protecting nests. So while it may be a pain to have to take down and set up beach equipment every day, it is very essential to the health of the turtles that they are taken down.