Ocean Currents » sea turtles http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 21 Apr 2017 20:52:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Mississippi’s $10 Million Investment in Sea Turtle and Dolphin Recovery http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/23/mississippis-10-million-investment-in-sea-turtle-and-dolphin-recovery/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/23/mississippis-10-million-investment-in-sea-turtle-and-dolphin-recovery/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 13:45:22 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13396

Last week, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation approved nearly $370 million in new projects to help the Gulf of Mexico recover from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Among these new projects is Mississippi’s Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Recovery and Monitoring Program, a nearly $10 million, five-year project. This is the largest sea turtle or dolphin recovery project funded by any one state in the six years since the BP oil disaster began, and Ocean Conservancy is thrilled to see Mississippi investing in the health of the Gulf’s marine life.

Mississippi has a small coast, but it has felt the effects of the BP oil disaster on its shores. From 2010-2014, a record number of more than 1,100 marine mammals were stranded on beaches all across the Gulf Coast. The bottlenose dolphin population in Mississippi Sound is expected to take 40-50 years to recover. And an estimated 61,000 to 173,000 sea turtles were killed during the BP oil disaster. These long-lived species will need the help of projects like Mississippi’s to fully recover.

The scope of this project is big—for sea turtles alone, it includes purchasing new fishing gear for fishermen that prevents sea turtles from accidentally getting caught in shrimp nets, hiring a marine biologist to rehabilitate stranded or injured turtles and monitoring the turtles’ movements after they’ve been released back into the Gulf. For both dolphins and sea turtles, this project will expand the Mississippi stranding network to the state’s many barrier islands and collect better data on why and how marine life strand in Mississippi—an important step in tracking the overall health and recovery of Gulf marine life after the BP oil disaster. The project will also increase coordination among the many state and federal agencies, research groups and academic institutions involved in sea turtle and marine mammal studies.

In addition to this nearly $10 million project, Mississippi has another $15 million in Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding to help sea turtles and marine mammals recover from the BP oil disaster. Marc Wyatt, Director of the Office of Restoration, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, explains why Mississippi chose to invest even more money in these species: “Up until now the state had not invested in marine mammals and sea turtles in the restoration landscape. We knew we wanted to, but we wanted to do it in such a way that resulted in a coordinated partnership between everyone involved,” said Marc. “What this will also do is have everyone talking, working towards where we need to go, such that when the NRDA funds are needed, then we already have started down the restoration path and potentially have identified needs.”

Mississippi is not the only state to fund projects to help sea turtles and dolphins. Florida and Alabama have also invested in their capacity to respond to stranded marine life, and a $45 million Gulf-wide project funded last year will enhance sea turtle protection and rehabilitation in Texas and establish a joint United States/Mexico conservation program to protect sea turtle nests. With this new project, Mississippi plans to coordinate data collection efforts and communicate their findings across state and federal agencies to help sea turtles and dolphins across the Gulf recover—not just those in Mississippi waters.

To track the success of this project, and to find out how Mississippi is restoring its birds, beaches, wetlands and many other resources, visit www.restore.ms.

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5 Things Sea Turtles Need to Survive http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/26/5-things-sea-turtles-need-to-survive/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/26/5-things-sea-turtles-need-to-survive/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 16:14:12 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12999

Sea turtles have a strong sense of place—when it’s time to nest, they return to the same beach where they hatched decades before. Many residents of the Gulf Coast share that same sense of place (my own family has lived in Louisiana for more than ten generations!)

That’s why sea turtles are a great mascot for the Gulf Coast. It’s also why Ocean Conservancy’s new video outlining a vision for a healthy Gulf is told from the perspective of a loggerhead sea turtle. In honor of the star of our video, here are five things that sea turtles need to survive and thrive.

1.     A nice beach to nest on

Most sea turtles (with the exception of the Kemp’s ridley) nest at night, and always on the same beach where they were born. If a beach is crowded with lights, noise or debris, a mother sea turtle is less likely to nest there. In 2010, fewer loggerhead sea turtles nested in the Florida Panhandle because workers covered the beaches that summer, cleaning up after the BP oil disaster. Scientists also moved thousands of sea turtle eggs from Alabama and Florida beaches to Florida’s Atlantic Coast that summer, so that the hatchlings wouldn’t be killed by oil as they swam into the Gulf. Because those sea turtles were born on the Atlantic Coast, they may never come back to the Gulf.

2.     The quickest route to the sea

When baby sea turtles hatch, they instinctively run for the bright horizon offshore. But bright lights from roads, buildings and even flashlights can confuse hatchlings, causing them to run in the wrong direction. You can prevent this by using a red filter on your flashlight when you’re on the beach at night, and turning off any lights that face the ocean.

3.     A safe place to grow up

Once they’ve made it to the ocean, many young sea turtles rely on floating seaweed mats, called sargassum, to hide from predators. Sargassum is not just a nursery for little sea turtles—young fish also find safe haven here.

4.     Lots of food to eat

The leatherback sea turtle’s favorite food is jellyfish. But a floating, clear plastic bag can look an awful lot like a jellyfish dinner. When sea turtles consume marine debris by mistake, it can get stuck in their stomachs and cause major damage. Reducing the amount of trash in the ocean means turtles can steer clear of plastic and stick to the jellyfish meals they love.

5.     Your help

All sea turtles are affected by ocean trash, whether mistaking the trash for food, getting a flipper caught in a discarded six-pack ring or being unable to surface for air while accidentally stuck in a fishing net. For every sea turtle that hatches, only one out of 100 will survive to adulthood. Let’s make their chance of survival a little better by keeping our beaches clean and our trash out of the ocean.

Right now, our Gulf leaders are updating a plan to restore the Gulf of Mexico. The new plan is a step in the right direction, but there is more work to be done to protect sea turtles and all who rely on the Gulf.

Send a message to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council today and ask them to ensure a healthy future for the Gulf.

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Creating a Healthy Future for Sea Turtles http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/23/creating-a-healthy-future-for-sea-turtles/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/23/creating-a-healthy-future-for-sea-turtles/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2016 15:11:54 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12954

I wasn’t really awake until our all-terrain vehicle bumped its way to the beaches of the Alabama Gulf coast. I held on tight in the dark and wondered whether this adventure had been such a good idea after all.

Then a pop of orange and red burst across the Gulf of Mexico. All that had been asleep was now vivid and busy. Sea gulls and terns swooped above the waves scanning for breakfast. A pod of dolphins broke the surface offshore. Salty fishermen appeared as the mist lifted, persistent, patient. I remember being on the beach early each morning during the BP oil disaster. Even through all the chaos the mornings were always magical as the sun rose over the Gulf. Six years later it is reassuring to see so much is well, but we know that there is still work ahead to restore this environment to its natural state. As I took in all these sights, I reminded myself: I’m here to do a job.

I had signed up with Share the Beach, a volunteer conservation program that monitors and helps protect sea turtles as they are about to hatch. The Gulf is home to many sea turtle species, including: loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, green and Kemp’s ridley. Each of these five species is listed as threatened or endangered and could become extinct if measures aren’t taken to support their populations.

One way to help these iconic creatures is to protect their nests and give young turtles the best chance to survive and return to the sea. If we find a nest, we lay metal fencing on the sand to protect the eggs from predators and flag the area so people know it shouldn’t be disturbed. On rare occasions, mother turtles lay their eggs too close to the high tide mark. In those cases, we carefully move the nest and eggs to higher ground so the nest won’t be inundated with water, which might kill the hatchlings.

When the eggs have been incubating in the sand for 55 days, we begin to “nest sit.” Volunteer teams watch the nests around the clock until the babies hatch. Our goal is to make sure the baby turtles reach the Gulf waters without a hitch. Many times, the baby turtles become disoriented, confusing street lights and porch lights on the land with the horizon offshore. If they head to manmade lights, we redirect them to the water. This year, Alabama had a record nesting year, which means there is hope for recovery, resilience and restoration in spite of the many stressors on the environment.

Ocean Conservancy’s new video focuses on that hope. It begins with a sea turtle that hatched in 2010 during the height of the BP oil disaster. Skipping ahead to the year 2045, the sea turtle returns to the same beach where she hatched to lay her own eggs. But, thanks to the efforts of people like you to restore the Gulf, she doesn’t find an oil laden beach; she finds a pristine environment teeming with life. That’s the future Ocean Conservancy works to achieve each day.

Join Ocean Conservancy to help create a healthy future for sea turtles and all who rely on the Gulf.  Last month, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released its updated plan to restore the Gulf of Mexico. Please join us in thanking the Council for their work and asking them to take the plan a step further. Help us generate 20,000 comments to the Council to ensure a healthy future for Gulf species like sea turtles.

 

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Join the International Coastal Cleanup http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/14/join-the-international-coastal-cleanup/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/14/join-the-international-coastal-cleanup/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 13:30:42 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12690

Written by Tori Glascock

Does all of this trash talk have you feeling down in the dumps? For 30 years, Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), has helped keep trash off our beaches and out of the ocean!

Volunteers from states and territories throughout the U.S. and more than 100 countries come together each year and participate in an ICC event near them. You can sign up to clean up or propose a new cleanup site! Three decades of Cleanups have yielded more than 210 million pounds of trash being collected and saved from polluting our ocean. Over 11.5 million volunteers have covered more than 360,000 miles of coastlines across the world.

In 2015 alone, beach, underwater and watercraft volunteers covered 25,188 miles and picked up 18,062,939 million pounds of trash. A plethora of plastic items was found including beverage bottles, bottle caps, straws, bags and utensils. Changes to daily habits such as Skipping the Straw when you go out to restaurants, using reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic ones and using reusable grocery bags will make a huge impact on helping to decrease the amount of trash that is reaching our ocean.

This year the 31st International Coastal Cleanup will take place on September 17th, 2016. Join in for a day of sun, fun and conserving the ocean!

If you can’t make it to an ICC site, you can do your own cleanup! The International Coastal Cleanup may only be once a year but that is not the only time the coasts need cleaning up. Become a champion of your ocean and keep it trash free all year long. Every piece matters too! Through our mobile data collection app, Clean Swell, each item you pick up and log is one less piece of trash in the ocean and one more step towards trash free seas.

The best thing that you can do for the ocean is to pick up any trash you see, reduce-reuse-recycle and remember that all waterways lead to the ocean! Simple habit changes can have a huge positive impact on our mission to conserve the ocean.

See you at a Cleanup site on September 17th, 2016.

Check out this informative infographic to learn more about the impact of the International Coastal Cleanup.

Tori Glascock is a 2016 Ocean Conservancy Summer Intern. 

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The Impact of Ocean Trash http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/03/the-impact-of-ocean-trash/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/03/the-impact-of-ocean-trash/#comments Sat, 03 Sep 2016 13:30:54 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12686 Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore.

Photo: Susan White / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Written by Tori Glascock

Before there was a waste collection system in place on land, trash was left in the streets and disease was rampant. Similarly, the trash we are dumping into the ocean is having catastrophic effects on the animals that call the ocean home and the people who rely on oceanic ecosystems to sustain their livelihood.

Chief among the problems that ocean trash presents is the inability of ocean animals like sea turtles, seabirds and seals to distinguish what is food and what is trash. First and foremost, these animals should not have to make this distinction as there should not be such an abundance of our trash in the ocean—but we are passed that point and now must find ways to combat this issue.

Balloons and plastic bags appear as a favorite food to turtles and seabirds but prove to be hazardous once ingested. Not only does consuming a balloon cause internal damage, but the string attached to it also lends itself to be an entangling hazard were it to get stuck around an animal’s neck. Other plastic objects including bottle caps, straws and plastic utensils are equally as dangerous to marine life. Last year alone, Ocean Conservancy volunteers collected more than half a million straws and stirrers which are eaten by sea turtles and seabirds, and are even known to clog up the nostrils of turtles. Pledge to Skip the Straw and help limit the amount of straws that get into our ocean!

Seabirds, including gulls, are notoriously known to eat anything they come across, even your sandwich on the beach! These days it is a seemingly destructive characteristic to have because a portion of what they are eating is plastic. The plastic sits in their stomachs and can eventually lead to death. It is estimated that by 2050, 99% of all species of seabirds will be eating plastic and 95% of all individual seabirds will fall victim to the harmful effects of consuming plastic. The predicted percentage of species that will consume plastic is up from the 65% that eat plastic today which is a jump from the historical average of 26%. Also not safe from ocean plastics are juvenile sea turtles, as just .5 of a gram, one one-thousandth of a pound, of ingested plastic can kill them.

In addition to plastic consumer products and packaging, abandoned fishing gear poses  a severe danger to the animals that come in contact with it. Derelict fishing gear such as old nets, lines and pots are coined as ghost gear and lead to a practice known as ghost fishing; the entanglement and capture of marine animals by fishing gear that has been left in the ocean. Scientists recently found a sperm whale with over 440 pounds of fishing gear in its stomach. If you see fishing gear float by be sure to take it out of the water and dispose of it properly!

Stay tuned for our next blog post and  learn how you can help keep our oceans trash free.

Tori Glascock is a 2016 Ocean Conservancy Summer Intern. 

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10 Things to Know About Sea Turtles http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/16/10-things-to-know-about-sea-turtles/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/16/10-things-to-know-about-sea-turtles/#comments Thu, 16 Jun 2016 13:00:48 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12205

This blog was written by Roger Di Silvestro, a field correspondent for Ocean Conservancy.

Sea turtles are among the world’s most ancient vertebrates. When on land, they look cumbersome and awkward, their powerful front flippers struggling to pull their weight across ocean shores. But in the water, where they spend most of their lives, sea turtles fly through the water much as birds soar through the sky. Their flippers become wings, their disk-shaped bodies cut through the sea like torpedoes.

Sea turtles remain one of nature’s great mysteries—scientists have only begun to discover secrets of sea turtle life. Here are ten things science can tell you about these marine animals.

1. Sea turtles are reptiles, like snakes and lizards, and breathe air. They first evolved about 150 million years ago, making them survivors of the Age of Dinosaurs. The first turtles were land animals that probably looked much like the tortoises of today, with powerful, column-like legs designed to support a heavy body. Evolution turned these elephantine legs into flippers as the creatures adapted to a life of swimming. Today turtles swim in all oceans except those in the chilly Polar Regions.

2. The most obvious characteristic of any turtle is its shell. It evolved from the ribs into a box of bone covered in tough skin that protects all but the head, tail and flippers. The shell is part of the turtle’s spine and forms a sort of outer skeleton reminiscent of the exoskeletons of insects and spiders.

3. The ocean is home to seven turtle species: the leatherback, loggerhead, olive ridley, hawksbill, flatback, green and Kemp’s ridley.

4.  Sea turtles begin life in leathery-shelled eggs laid in holes dug by their mothers in sand. Depending on the species, a female may produce 50 to 200 eggs at a time, most species laying them at night. About 60 days later, the eggs hatch within a few minutes of each other and the babies races to the sea, often assaulted by a gamut of predators like crabs, gulls, raccoons and sharks. A female may lay as many as eight clutches per breeding season. On average, about one hatchling per 1,000 survives to adulthood.

5. The largest sea turtle is the leatherback, which possesses a flexible, leathery shell. It reaches a length of four to eight feet and weighs 500-2,000 pounds—not bad for a reptile that feeds mostly on jellyfish. Its search for food can take it down to 4,000 feet and across hundreds of miles: they can easily migrate 3,600 miles each way.

6. The smallest sea turtle is the Kemp’s ridley, which measures less than 30 inches long and weighs less than 100 pounds. The Kemp’s has the most-restricted nesting range of any sea turtle species—one beach, about 15 miles long, near Rancho Nuevo in Mexico. Unlike other sea turtles, Kemp’s ridleys usually lay eggs during the day and in massive groups, called arribadas (Spanish for “arrival”). In the 1940s, an arribada typically would number around 40,000 females. By the 1980s, as a result of uncontrolled collection of eggs and meat for human food, the entire The Mexican government has enforced stricter provisions on egging, and the United States has a  nesting beach in Texas where more than 100 females have laid eggs yearly for the past decade. Biologists raise the hatchlings in captivity until they are large enough to have an edge on survival, then release them from the beach where they hatched.

7. Young turtles head to the open sea, returning later to offshore and reef areas to feed. Some species travel hundreds of miles. The flatback sea turtle, however, restricts its activities to seas off Australia.

8. Sea turtles can rest underwater without breathing for up to two hours. When seeking food or evading predators, they need to surface for air more frequently.

9. All sea turtles are omnivorous when young, but the green sea turtle becomes purely herbivorous as an adult. As omnivores, the turtles will scarf down seaweed, sponges, mollusks, worms, fish and other sea life. However, leatherbacks tend to eat almost exclusively jellyfish, some of which can grow to be several feet across.

10. The average lifespan for a sea turtle is hard to nail down, given that they live for several decades and few research projects last that long. Current conventional wisdom suggests that they reach breeding age anywhere between age 3 and 50 and may live 80 to 100 years, though these figures are ballpark.

 

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What We Know Now About the BP Oil Disaster http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 20:00:14 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11026

It takes 635 pages to describe exactly how the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster impacted the Gulf ecosystem. This is what the Trustees released in the “Injury to Natural Resources” chapter of the Draft Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (which totals over 1,400 pages), a plan that will guide the spending for a over $7 billion of the $20.8 billion settlement with BP.

We know that not everyone has the time to peruse hundreds of pages of information, so Ocean Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation partnered to summarize what we now know about impacts. This summary is based on five years of government research, which recently became available when the details of the BP settlement were released last month.

The numbers in the report are staggering. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and birds died, and many more were exposed to oil. Trillions of larval fish and invertebrates were killed by BP oil discharged into Gulf waters. An area 20 times the size of Manhattan around the now-plugged wellhead is polluted by oil. Deep-water corals, some of them hundreds of years old, were killed. In addition, due to the challenge of measuring the impact to some animals and places, the Trustees describe many of their conclusions as underestimates. What we do know is that the oil disaster affected the entire northern Gulf ecosystem, and the long-term effects are still unknown.

Long-lived or slow-growing animals that were impacted by the BP oil disaster will likely take decades to recover. For example, spinner dolphins are estimated to need 105 years to recover, and slow-growing deep-water corals may take hundreds of years. In light of this, it is essential that restoration is paired with continued long-term monitoring and research to track these animals and habitats to understand if they are on the path to recovery, and to reassess our restoration activities if they are not responding to our efforts.

More than five years have passed since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and as we look back to better understand the magnitude of this environmental disaster, we must also remember to look forward. In addition to identifying the extent of ecosystem injury, the Trustees also recommend a comprehensive suite of restoration approaches to move the Gulf toward recovery.

Learn more about how you can shape this process for the next 18 years.

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