Sea Turtles

Sea Turtles Dig The Dark

By Natalie Hummel

On a hot July evening, I observed an adult loggerhead rise from the jet black ocean, with only the full moon to guide her. After 15-20 years at sea, she journeyed back to the beach where she hatched to lay her own eggs. It’s a memory that moved me in many ways.

I knew very little about sea turtles before this trip with the Ocean Conservancy. We landed on Florida’s Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge—– a 20 mile barrier island, comprised of undisturbed beaches, expensive high rise condos, and bustling strip malls. Although a playground for surfers, sunbathers, and fishermen the refuge becomes a quiet nesting ground for thousands of sea turtles. Archie Carr is considered the most significant area for green turtle nesting in North America and the most significant area for loggerhead sea turtles nesting in the Western Hemisphere.

The beach became a hands on learning environment, where visitors learn of sea turtle ancestry, biology, and how environmental factors such as climate change, loss of habitat and fishing negatively impact survival rates. The dedicated staff comprised of volunteers, graduate students, and NGOs provide visitors opportunities to track nests, tag turtles and observe fledgling hatchlings make their way to the vast ocean. Local ordinances in the counties surrounding the refuge require home owners and other establishments to shut off outside lights and use drapes to keep artificial light to a minimum. Standard street lights have been replaced with low ground lights on the side of the roads— illuminated enough to see but not disturb nesting sea turtles. The community thrives on the logo “Sea Turtles Dig the Dark!”

Research with Archie Carr Center and the University of Florida, found replacing traditional “J”-style hook with large circle hooks (G hooks) reduce serious injury to sea turtles. The new “circle” hooks are much less likely to be swallowed by turtles than traditional J-shaped hooks, which cause suffocation or internal bleeding when swallowed.

As a result of the study, NOAA Fisheries requires all U.S. longline fisheries in both the Atlantic and Pacific to use circle hooks. In addition, all boats must carry turtle hoisting, hook removal gear and educate crews.

Archie Carr Refuge is a showcase of how man and endangered species can exist side by side. Sea turtles’ lives reflect the depths and mysteries of the ocean world— their survival is critical to the health of our oceans.

About the author: Natalie Hummel is in EPA’s Pollution Prevention Division, managing E3 efforts in NY, PA, WV, VA, and MT. Natalie joined the Agency as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF), and has work on assignments in the Chesapeake Bay Program and at the National Park Service, working on urban stormwater and coastal estuary environmental issues.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Giving Sea Turtles a Head Start

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Sandy Raimondo is a research ecologist with the Office of Research and Development in Gulf Breeze, FL. She joined EPA in 2003 and models potential effects of toxicants on organisms and populations.

Close up of Loggerhead Sea TurtleIt’s a big ocean out there, little turtles! May the safety in numbers be with you.

Last evening I witnessed young loggerhead sea turtles emerge from their nest and swim off into the dark Gulf of Mexico that would be their home for the next 50 years or so. As a volunteer for the National Park Service, I was there to help hatchling sea turtles that might become disoriented by all of our shiny light pollution and head in the wrong direction after emerging. Without a doubt, it was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

I woke up this morning a groggy, happy camper and came to work, where I sit at a computer and model what-if scenarios involving pollution of the toxicological variety. If such-and-such happens and we do this or that, this could be the outcome. For as disconnected as the beauty of sea turtle hatching and computer modeling may seem to some people, this morning it was crystal clear to me. Several years ago I was reading some papers on population modeling and one on loggerheads stood out in my mind. Based on the results of their modeling, the authors offered suggestions on how to aid the conservation of the threatened species by focusing efforts on particular life stages. The results of these models have helped to guide national efforts to keep these amazing animals from becoming extinct.

Author releasing Loggerhead Sea TurtleIt would be awesome if spending time with sea turtles was part of my job and I could go out at night and call it “just another day at the office.” But what if the modelers of loggerheads would have said that 20 years ago, and never took the time to sit in front of their computer to play with numbers? Maybe 20 years from now some bright-eyed volunteer will be out in an estuary somewhere and marvel at the diversity of life and the health of the water. That would be awesome too. And maybe somewhere in their subconscious they’ll even thank the people who sat at a computer to help keep it that way.

Learn more about sea turtles and their conservation.

Sneak preview: from sea-going reptiles to forest-dwelling mammals…
Aaron Ferster here. Next week, we’ll be coming to you from the forests of Connecticut. Monday, we’ll be using Twitter to send updates from the field as a team of researchers surveys small mammal populations. They’re studying the links between the landscape, biodiversity, and human health. Wednesday, we’ll post a full update here in Greenversations.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.