Water And Oceanography

Endangered Sea Creatures



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Thousands of tourists populate Florida's beaches year-round, enjoying the chance to swim, collect shells or admire sunsets. Sea turtles deserve to be top-of-the mind in our thoughts as well, especially during nesting season.

The turtles begin nesting in spring. Hatchings continue through November. Light coming from the land disorients baby turtles, which head for roads instead of the sea. On those roads, they are crushed. Or they die of dehydration. With the help of special turtle-safe lights and with a little behavior modification on everyone's part, more turtles can get out to sea where they may survive.

Mother Nature needs all the help she can get keeping sea turtle populations safe. When babies go in the wrong direction after hatching, they can be attacked by swarms of ghost crabs or fire ants.

On moonlit nights, the hatchlings follow that luminous orb down to the water, where instinctively they submerge tiny heads and flap their flippers. Many, of course, will die. But at least they have a fighting chance when they march, lurch and slide toward saltwater instead of heaving up toward asphalt and concrete.

On both Florida coasts tropical storms and hurricanes can wipe out nests. Nests everywhere are vulnerable to rampaging raccoons. But lights have become an increasingly disastrous problem for the turtles in recent years.

Inexplicably, many motels and businesses flout the artificial-light laws. In acts of hostility to the very environment that produces their revenues, motel owners illuminate palm trees or direct floodlights to pool decks. They fail to warn tourists that even room lights, if drapes are left open at night, can lead the hatchlings astray. At taxpayer expense, prosecuting violators is sometimes the only way to get the lights removed or replaced with turtle-friendly lamps.

Some communities have passed ordinances regulating turtle-trouncing lights. To enforce such laws, cities and counties must deploy an enforcement officer to walk the beaches from 10 p.m. to dawn to photograph and write up violators. How many local governments have the luxury of dedicating a turtle specialist to this job for the six months sea turtles are vulnerable?

In Florida, our main species of sea turtles are green, loggerhead and leatherback. The creatures have laid eggs on shore for millennia. Turtles aren't warm and fuzzy. But, a vital part of our ecosystem, they deserve protection.

Consider this quote regarding a major policy paper on the health of Florida's oceans:

"The cumulative impacts of decades of overfishing, coastal development and pollution are endangering Florida's marine ecosystems," says David White, Regional Director of The Ocean Conservancy, quoted in the group's news release. "We have an obligation to future generations to improve the way we manage these resources. An ocean of vanishing species and unraveling ecosystems should not be the legacy that we bequeath to our children."

For more information about this seminal report, check out http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/florida/flfuture.asp

And for more on sea turtles, visit sites such as:

http://www.cccturtle.org/sea-turtle-information.htm

http://www.marinelife.org

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More about this author: Andrea Brunais

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