How You Can Help Sea Turtles
Many of us think of Crush in Finding Nemo when we think of sea turtles. While Crush would have spent his entire life in the ocean, a female sea turtle must come to land once a year to lay her eggs. For the female this is also a time where they are most vulnerable. In water they are graceful and relatively quick moving. On land they are slow and lumbering. This journey ashore can leave them vulnerable to harassment from humans.
Sea turtles have survived relatively unchanged for over 100 million years. However, it only took humans a few generations to deplete their numbers. This has resulted in sea turtles being place under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Not only is it good citizenship to save the sea turtles, it’s also the law. Sadly, many people still seem to lack an understanding of what one should do if they encounter a sea turtle.
The warm months of May-September are when many people will flock to the beach to enjoy their vacation. This is also the peak time for female sea turtles to lay their eggs on the beach. If you are fortunate enough to encounter a sea turtle while enjoying a late night stroll on the beach, following these rules will ensure this prehistoric creature can complete her extraordinary journey.
Rule 1: Quiet
If you are out for a midnight stroll be quiet. Although you may simply be whispering sweet nothings into your partner’s ear, some couples end a night of fun with a loud and raucous walk along the beach. Sea turtles do not like loud and raucous.
Sea turtles come ashore once a year to lay eggs. They prefer a quiet beach with few disruptions. If they are disturbed they may turn around and go back to the ocean without laying their eggs. If they don’t feel it is safe to return they will eventually lay their eggs in the water, where the eggs have a zero chance of survival.
Rule 2: Do not disturb
This isn’t a petting zoo. Keep a respectable and quiet distance from the sea turtle. Patting her on the head and sitting on her back does not constitute a quiet, or a respectable distance. If you disrupt her while she is in the process of laying her eggs she may take off for the ocean and continue to lay her eggs during her attempt to escape. The eggs that are now littered across the beach will perish.
Rule 3: Do not bury someone in the sand
You may be wondering what that has to do with sea turtles. Not all nests get marked by the dedicated volunteers who patrol the beach looking for evidence of nests. While you may think it will make a cool picture of your friend buried to the neck in sand, you may inadvertently dig up a clutch of unmarked eggs in the process.
Rule 4: Do not litter anywhere
All rivers and streams eventually run in to the ocean. That juice bottle you threw out in Ohio, is now working its way to the ocean. That plastic bag you noticed blowing across the highway on your vacation to the beach is following the juice bottle to the ocean.
Sea turtles along with other marine animals will inadvertently eat the garbage floating in the ocean. We can do our part to keep the oceans clean by not littering anywhere.
Rule 5: Keep it dark
Sea turtles really do dig the dark. Lights on the beach signal danger to a pregnant sea turtle and will deter her from coming ashore to lay her eggs.
Once they are born, hatchlings use the light from the moon to guide them to the ocean. A flashlight or well lit Condo building will send they baby turtles in the wrong direction, away from the ocean. If the babies don’t make it to the water they will die. Education campaigns have been effective in raising awareness of the importance of darkness during nesting season in coastal towns. Keep your midnight stroll in the dark and leave your spotlight at home.
You are now ready to have an encounter with a sea turtle and not be a jerk. You may actually impress others with your consideration for these sea creatures. Education and conservation efforts have been effective in increasing the number of nests counted along our coasts. Following the rules when you encounter a sea turtle on the beach will ensure that generations to come will be able to have the same opportunity to experience these awe inspiring creatures.