Raising awareness of sea turtle habitat

Raising awareness of sea turtle habitat

Daniel R. Evans

Florida’s natural coastal environments are being put under increasing pressure as the population in coastal communities grows and development encroaches on wildlife habitats. Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts provide vital nesting habitat for the threatened loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), while Florida’s Atlantic coast provides vital nesting habitat for endangered green (Chelonia rnydas) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles. Coastal areas also contain some of the most fragile ecosystems in Florida.

Certain forms of development on nesting beaches discourage female sea turtles from nesting and increase turtle hatchling mortality. To minimize these impacts, it is essential that citizens and tourists become more informed about how their activities affect sea turtles and how people can support sea turtle conservation.

In 2002, the Sea Turtle Survival League (STSL), a program of the nonprofit Caribbean Conservation Corporation, initiated the Sea Turtle Nesting Habitat Awareness Campaign to promote a greater understanding of the impacts that coastal residents, businesses, and visitors can have on sea turtle nesting habitat. The campaign was an expansion of STSL’s 1999 Coastal Awareness Pilot Campaign and its ongoing Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking and Coastal Habitat Education Program, which began operation in 1996.

The Campaign has focused on Florida’s counties with sea turtle nesting beaches that have a local sea turtle conservation group available, and willing, to participate. It is divided into three parts: 1) providing local sea turtle groups with printed educational materials for distribution to coastal businesses; 2) acknowledging businesses that are “sea turtle friendly” through an awards program; and 3) providing online educational resources for the public.

The STSL provided local sea turtle conservation groups with educational material for distribution to beachfront hotels, restaurants, condominiums, retail stores, and realtors. It also coordinated the recognition of those businesses working to benefit sea turtle nesting habitat through the “sea turtle friendly” awards. To date, the Campaign has been conducted in Brevard, Collier, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Sarasota, St. Johns, Volusia, and Walton counties.

The “sea turtle friendly” awards program provides a great opportunity to recognize coastal businesses for going the extra mile to protect Florida’s sea turtles and their nesting beaches. The public is encouraged to support these businesses, thereby giving others an incentive to join the effort.

Since the Campaign began, nearly 800 coastal businesses have been approached to receive the educational materials with nearly 89 percent of these businesses accepting one of the materials. “Sea turtle friendly” awards have been given to nearly 60 coastal businesses in 11 of the 12 counties.

The online component of the Campaign expanded the STSL section of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) website at www.cccturtle.org to include additional coastal habitat information, and coverage of issues related to the State’s coastal management policies. During 2003, the CCC website welcomed more than 220,000 new visitors, for an average of more than 610 new visitors per day. (Note: these are new, distinct visitors, not “hits.”)

The CCC was founded in 1959. Based in Gainesville, Florida, it is the oldest organization in the world dedicated solely to the research and conservation of marine turtles and their habitats. In 1993, the CCC established the Sea Turtle Survival League program to address issues affecting sea turtles and their vital nesting beaches in Florida.

The educational material developed by STSL includes “Do Not Disturb” door-hang tags, three-sided “table top tents,” and double-sided placemat coloring sheets. Each cooperating group has received 3,000 to 5,000 of each item for local distribution. In addition to a colorful photo, the door-hang tags have county-specific information about sea turtles and the coastal ecosystem, suggestions on how to reduce the impact of visitor activities, and contact information for the local group(s) taking part in the Campaign. The table top tents contain similar information. The coloring sheets provide additional sea turtle information and graphics, such as a sea turtle size chart, puzzles, and games.

Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2004

The Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2004 was signed into law on July 2. This bill was created to assist in the conservation of marine turtles and the nesting habitats of marine turtles in foreign countries. The bill would accomplish this by creating a Multinational Species Conservation Fund to support conservation of imperiled marine turtle species, such as loggerhead, green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, and leatherback. As of September 2004, no funds have been appropriated for the implementation of this Act.

Daniel R. Evans is the Education Coordinator for the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, 4424 NW 13th St, Suite A-1, Gainesville, FL 32609, (352) 373-6441, (352) 375-2449, drevans@cccturtle.org.

COPYRIGHT 2004 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group