Take Pictures and Leave Only Footprints: Rules to Live By
Deciding who or what causes to support is tricky because it’s so hard to tell where/what your dollars or donated items are going to. This leaves a lot of people hesitant to get involved within those parameters, preferring instead to volunteer. Residents of Brevard County have alternatives, though, with local organizations that are making a difference right here on the Space Coast. One that comes to mind immediately is the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, where your donations and your time are both spent helping Mother Nature’s more vulnerable creatures.
Sea turtles and other aquatic life are increasingly in need of human intervention, and ironically that need stems from humans themselves. The truth of the matter is large numbers of rescues occur as a result of littering and pollution, with plastics and chemicals having a significant impact. That’s why supporting groups like STPS is so important.
There are a number of ways you can help, like through the Adopt a Sea Turtle program, but funding for the group’s efforts comes in many forms. For instance, memorial donations from estates and monies brought in through various events, store sales and STPS membership fees all go toward operating expenses. There’s even a signature donation where you can be more specific with the direction of your funds. Regardless of where it comes from, the bottom line is keeping everything going.
Expenses for STPS include first responders for sea turtle injuries and deaths; the upkeep of two rescue vehicles, one in Indialantic and one in Port Canaveral; and costs associated with transport from beaches to rehab centers in places like Orlando Sea World, Volusia and Boca Raton. In 2018, organization members put on more than 17,000 miles in transports rescuing and releasing turtles of all sizes. The association spends countless hours and monies to educate the public by attending events, school programs and conducting turtle education classes and programs offered at their education center.
Another way your support is making a difference is through a program started six years ago when STPS partnered with the Brevard Zoo to create the Sea Turtle Healing Center. So far, the STPS has been able to contribute $25,000 each year to the invaluable center. There’s also a satellite tracking program with UCF they help fund which allows the monitoring of nests and the turtles’ movements.
Sea Turtle Nesting Habits
Speaking of nests, according to Dave Cheney—director of Marketing & Public Relations, director of STERP and the FWC permit holder for Transportation—sea turtles can lay between four and seven nests a season with anywhere from 80 to 120 eggs in each nest within only a matter of weeks. That’s more than 400 eggs, which take 55 to 60 days to hatch, but only one in 1,000 will make it from birth to adulthood.
“When they do hatch, there is a nutritious yolk sac partially attached to the plastron or breastplate that gives the little guys the extra energy they need to flee the beach and head out to sea,” Dave says.
Interestingly, when turtles lay more than four nests a year, they usually skip nesting the following year.
Maintaining a Presence
In order to keep funding and volunteers rolling in, it’s important for the STPS to maintain a high presence within the community. These efforts can be seen via attendance at environmental events, hosting beach cleanups and education programs for adults and children. One of the things STPS encourages the public to do in June and July is to go on a guided turtle walk with trained volunteers where they’ll view sea turtles at close range in a totally non-intrusive way. That means no flashlights, loud noises, touching or being disruptive. They’ve conducted 39 walks attended by a total of 1,200 people, and part of the presentation covers the different species that call Florida home.
Of the approximately 150 to 160 volunteers, a 2017 report Dave referenced noted 22,000 volunteer hours were logged at 118 events and education outreach programs involving 38,000 people. During that time, they also responded to 245 strandings, which included reports of live and dead turtles. Injuries and deaths are not limited to plastic, fishing nets and chemicals, either. Of course, sea turtles can live to a ripe old age, but causes such as boat strikes and shark attacks also take their toll on numbers.
Sea Turtle Species
Brevard County is the largest nesting area in the state, with three of the seven sea turtle species laying eggs on our shores. The most common is the loggerhead, followed by the green and then a handful of leatherbacks.
Loggerheads have massive, block-like heads and are among the larger sea turtles with adults weighing an average of 275 pounds and a shell length of about 3 feet. Equipped with powerful jaws, they are slow but strong with considerable stamina. Number of nests in Brevard in 2017: 23,377
Green turtles, named for their green body fat, weigh, on average, 350 pounds and carry an oval-shaped upper shell of approximately 3.3 feet in length. Previously listed as threatened, their numbers are bouncing back after conservation efforts. Number of nests in Brevard in 2017: 25,891
Leatherbacks are larger, dive deeper, travel farther and tolerate colder waters than any other sea turtle. Most average 6 feet in length and weigh from 500 to 1,500 pounds, but the largest leatherback on record was nearly 10 feet long and weighed more than 2,000 pounds. Number of nests in Brevard in 2017: 59
Sea Turtle Emergency Rescue Program
Dave, who has been working with the STPS for 11 years now and in charge of STERP, the Sea Turtle Emergency Rescue Program, for eight, had some tips to share for making a positive impact.
“I always say ‘take pictures and leave only footprints,’ but there are a number of ways citizens can help make a difference. Trash is obviously one of them, and plastic straws have gained a lot of attention lately, but plastic or foil balloons are also an issue. Remnants of rubber balloons could still pose a threat, but there’s been an increase in the others, and we recommend people not let them go, especially on the beach. As far as straws, the Port has begun a no plastic straws campaign, and our store now sells reusable stainless steel straws to the public.”
If you’re not acquainted with their store, located in Indialantic on A1A, it has a lot to offer and makes a nice stop for nature and sea life lovers or families with kids. Besides smart alternatives to plastic straws, visitors will find large replicas of sea turtles and other beachy items, plus T-shirts for their Turtle Crawl fundraiser and 5K held each September. Accordingly, sales go to support the program.
It’s worth mentioning that the STPS also accepts donations besides money. For instance, they could really use a small boat up at the Port to support their efforts, and they’ve only got the two trucks, but the group is grateful for whatever the public can give. For more information on any of the topics covered here, you can refer to the contact information listed below.
111 South Miramar Ave., Indialantic
Sea Turtle Emergency Hotline: 321.206.0646