Hollywood (Fla) to dim lights for turtles

It’s taken time, many battles, and the city’s need for permits, but the city of Hollywood, Florida has agreed to dim the lights along its beaches during turtle nesting season.

As scientists have told us for years, and as volunteers with STOP have shown us in this vivid video, sea turtle hatchlings are attracted by light – and head towards it once they crawl out of the sand to begin what should be their voyage into the sea.

Hollywood, Fla. has resisted curbing its lighting — even installing bright, “old-fashioned” streetlights along the Broadwalk in 2007, which exacerbated the problem.

The city did not go willingly into this new ordinance – rather, state and federal officials refused to grant the city permits to fix eroding beaches if it didn’t take steps to protect turtles from the lights. Though done under duress, a state biologist pointed out that this is a big step:

Robbin Trindell, a biologist in charge of sea turtle protection for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the ordinance represents a “major step” toward assuring state and Continue reading “Hollywood (Fla) to dim lights for turtles”

Olive ridley turtle “arribada” in Mexico

Amid the ongoing disaster of the Gulf oil spill and the unspeakable violence happening in parts of Mexico, an astonishing natural wonder dating back thousands of years is happening on some Mexican coasts — the annual “arribadas” of Olive ridley sea turtles.

Described by scientists as “one of the most unique synchronized nesting habits in the natural world,” the “arribada” is breathtaking to see – turtles arriving in waves of hundreds on a single day. They face the usual threats of sea turtles trying to nest on beaches near humans – turtles harrassed and harmed, and eggs taken.

WiLDCOAST/COSTASALVAjE, an organization helping locals protect the turtles, gives us the Ixtapilla beach story in excerpts from this article — (translation from Spanish via GoogleTranslate, so a bit rough -bold text is added by us):

(Ixtapilla, Michoacán) “This is one of 12 beaches in the world that records massive arrival of sea turtles…

WiLDCOAST, the Canada Fund, CONANP and Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga, have formed an alliance to support the efforts of the Nahua community of Ixtapilla in protecting this endangered species.

This phenomenon is recorded only during the rainy season on three Mexican Pacific beaches that do not cover more than Continue reading “Olive ridley turtle “arribada” in Mexico”

Sea turtle hatchlings LOVE beach resort lights

There’s bound to be messiness when creatures who’ve roamed the seas and beaches for millions of years face the relatively newfangled phenomenon of artifical light. Scientists believe that sea turtle hatchlings, when they emerge from their shells on beaches around the world, institnctually move in the direction where the sky is brightest. On a beach with no artificial lights, that direction is most often the open horizon of the sea.

Here, a few people from the group SeaTurtle Oversight Protection in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida took a night camera out on the beach as they tried to re-direct scores of hatchlings who scurried relentlessly toward the resort lights on a beach… even when they were put in the lapping waves of the ocean instead.

Citizen reporting giving us an interesting visual view of light pollution (and, further into the video, beach chair hazards) and turtle nesting – not meshing well together.

* See Andrew Revkin’s NY Times Dot Earth post about this post & STOP’s video: On Florida Beaches, Let There Be Dark

Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Loggerhead

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notesall five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was true even before the BP oil disaster). We’re looking at fast facts about these species – this week, it’s the Loggerhead:

Loggerhead Sea Turtle
(Caretta caretta)

  • named for their large heads
  • listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1978
  • adults generally grow to be 31 to 45 inches large, and weigh 170 to 250 pounds
  • reach sexual maturity around 20 to 30 years old; loggerheads are estimate to live up to and beyond 50 years
  • dine on jellyfish, sponges, shellfish, shrimp, squid, barnacles, sea urchins and occasionally seaweed
  • thought to be the largest hard shell turtle species
  • in the Gulf, nest primarily along the Florida coast
  • the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is the most important nesting area for loggerheads in the western hemisphere

Loggerhead turtles are threatened by the same things imperiling all sea turtles — marine debris, degradation of nesting habitat, capture for meat and eggs. One of the primary threats they face is incidental capture in fishing gear – from nets to longlines. Commercial shrimp trawlers have historically had a relatively high incidental turtle catch. Now, those trawlers’ nets have turtle excluder devices (TEDs). A TED is an grid of crossbars at the neck of the trawl net – it allows turtles and sharks caught in the net to get out. This ‘escape hatch’ is credited with saving countless sea turtles. The US government says it’s working with other countries who export shrimp to the US to require encourage shrimp trawlers to use TEDs. The photo on left is a loggerhead escaping a trawl net via a TED.

Photos courtesy NOAA: top photo, Marco Giuliano/ Fondazione Cetacea

Information sources:
National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA
National Park Service
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Connecticut Dept of Environmental Protection

Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Hawksbill

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notesall five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was pre-oil leak). We’re looking at fast facts about these species – this week, it’s the Hawksbill:

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
(Eretmochelys imbricata)

  • listed by US as a critically endangered species since 1970
  • average adult size is 2 1/2 feet and 95 to 165 pounds
  • adults feed mostly on sponges and other invertebrates
  • can live to be roughly 50 years old
  • named for unique hooked beak
  • females nest April through November, and typically not in groups
  • females can nest faster than any other sea turtles – can complete the entire process in less than 45 minutes
  • primary nesting areas in the US are in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Florida’s SE coast and the Keys
  • global populations have declined 80% or more in past century

The Hawksbill sea turtle’s dramatic population decline is due to a variety of causes – habitat degradation, artificial lighting along beaches, marine pollution and debris, incidental take by commercial fishing operations, egg collection and hunting of adults for meat.

Another significant factor in the Hawksbills’ decline is trade in their lovely carapaces – primarily for “tortoiseshell” jewelry.

Legal trade in Hawksbill shell trade ended when Japan agreed to stop importing shell in 1993, but a significant illegal trade continues. Trade in Hawksbills and products made from them is prohibited by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Photo credits: Top photo courtesy Thomas Doeppner; bottom photo by Caroline Rogers, USGS

Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Kemp’s ridley

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notes, all five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was pre-oil leak). We’re looking at fast facts about these species, starting with the most endangered:

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
(Lepidochelys kempii)

  • the most endangered of the sea turtles
  • the smallest of the sea turtles, measuring 23 to 28 inches, and weighing up to 100 pounds
  • feed mostly on crabs
  • reach maturity at 10 to 15 years old, and can live 30 to 50 years
  • females nest from May to July, on beaches across the Gulf of Mexico
  • Padre Island National Seashore is one of the most popular nesting beaches for the turtles in the US
  • Kemp’s Ridleys are named after Richard M. Kemp, a fisherman from Key West, FL, who first submitted the species for ID in 1906

Kemp’s ridleys display what NOAA calls “one of the most unique synchronized nesting habits in the natural world”, called “arribada”— arriving in waves of hundreds on a single day on beaches in Mexico. Scientists discovered this phenomenon in 1947, when they saw an amateur video documenting an extraordinary arribada near Rancho Nuevo. It is said that approximately 42,000 Kemp’s ridleys nested during that single day. The video also showed locals harvesting more than 80% of the turtle eggs. The arribadas recorded since then have been much lower, numbering in the low thousands of nesting female turtles.

The habitat preferences of Kemp’s ridley hatchlings has led Florida biologist Blair Witherington to say they may well be “the poster child for what’s happening to wildlife” in the Gulf oil spill.

Photos courtesy National Park Service