Now that Easter has passed, winter visitors are beginning their journeys back to northern homes. As they prepare to leave, other visitors are getting ready to come. These visitors are just off shore and in an amorous mood. Soon, sea turtles will be crawling up our beaches to lay their eggs. Some have already arrived. They’ve been coming to our beaches each year from March to November for as long as anyone can recall. They are our seasonal summer residents, and we welcome the return of these endangered reptiles.
If you’re born a sea turtle, the odds are never in your favor. Ocean plastic pollution is choking and drowning turtles, and human development is destroying their habitat. The result is only one out of 1,000 baby sea turtles survives to adulthood, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That is, if they even get to hatch and make it out to sea. On some beaches, only 10 out of 100 eggs laid by a sea turtle will hatch. Hatchlings face many obstacles, including predation by birds and other animals, as well as humans.
Plus, our beaches — where sea turtles lay their eggs — continue to lose sand to erosion, and the warmer temperatures we’ve had in recent years are skewing gender ratios, as hotter temperatures result in more female hatchlings, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
Recent research suggests that sea turtles can be critical components in the marine environment. If the species perishes, the ecosystem around it may collapse. Our efforts to help save sea turtles may ultimately help save the entire ocean. Think about it.
Those of us who live on or near the beach have a responsibility to help our summer visitors survive. Here are a few things we can all do:
• Turn off the lights at night. If you’re in a condo, talk to your managers and make sure they have a summertime plan for reduced lighting. If you’re directly on the beach, close your drapes or blinds at night to keep light from hitting the beach. Even if you’re not on the beach, the combined “urban glow” from lights can disorient both adult and hatchling turtles. Dim the lights and enjoy the stars.
• Remove your beach chairs, kayaks, boats and other recreational items from the sand at night. These become obstacles for nesting and hatchling turtles. You can haul them back out in the morning.
• Fill holes in the sand. Unfilled holes can trap adult and baby turtles.
• Don’t celebrate with balloons. Pick up plastic. Our beaches are littered with plastic, and these pieces and shreds look just like food to a turtle but end up fatally clogging its digestive system or keeping a turtle from swimming by wrapping around its neck or a flipper.
These are just a few suggestions. There are many sources for additional information on what you can do to help our visitors, but I’d suggest visiting your neighbors at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton. Find them online at www.gumbolimbo.org.
— Mary Kate Leming, Editor