Friday, September 4, 2015

#ThankYouMiami For Our Natural Resources - Sea Turtles

Did you know that in addition to being writers we work as environmental scientists? It is the influence behind our in-depth knowledge of local environmental news, our penchant for posting photos of native wildlife, and our occassional use of technical jargon. But, beyond these subtle hints, you probably never noticed because we rarely share our environmental knowledge. As of today, that will no longer be the case. At your request we are launching a new monthly series #ThankYouMiami for Our Natural Resources where we will educate you on the wealth of natural capital we have in Miami and give you easy-to-follow tips for protecting these resources. Think environmental education that is customized for you, that is geared toward your interests, and that answers your questions.

We are kicking off the series by talking sea turtles - the seasonal neighbors that nest and hatch on our beaches from April through October. The inspiration for the topic came to us last week when we joined the Marjory Stoneman Douglas BiscayneNature Center for a Members Only Sea Turtle Watch event. The nature center’s sea turtle program, which is executed in collaboration with Miami-Dade County, is one of their most popular initiatives. On the night we visited, there were 40+ people in attendance including students from UM’s marine science school (Go ‘Canes!) and young professionals like us from the local environmental community.

The program’s success is well deserved. The night’s keynote speaker, a naturalist from Miami-Dade County who runs the sea turtle program at Crandon Park, was a knowledgeable, charismatic, and accomplished presenter. Unlike most PowerPoint presentations, his had the perfect mix of information and captivating images, of basic information and cool factoids. We know others agreed because the students mobbed him and fan girl-ed over him when his presentation was over. Here are 7 key points we picked up during his presentation:
  1. Three species of sea turtles nest and hatch on our beaches: Green sea turtles, Loggerhead turtles, and Leatherback turtles. Each one has a distinct diet, size range, and appearance by which you should remember them.
  2. Leatherbacks grow largest of the three species (the largest recorded was 10 feet from beak to tail!). They also can dive deepest of the three species. Instead of scales, their carapace or "shell" is made of a layer of rubbery skin supported by thousands of tiny bone plates that expand and contract with changes in pressure at different depths. 
  3. Greens are the prettiest. They are the poster children for sea turtles in most photos and movies (think, Crush in Finding Nemo). Their name comes from the color of the fat under their shells which is green because they eat mostly seagrasses and algae.
  4. Loggerheads are the ugliest, but have the best diet. Their name comes from having a very large head with a strong jaw to crack open crabs, clams, mussels, and other shellfish (yum!).
  5. Miami-Dade County’s sea turtle program monitors the beaches daily during turtle season to mark new nests. They identify a possible nest by looking at the footprints or “track marks” left behind by the back flippers of the nesting turtle. Each species leaves a different mark.
  6. Only 1 in 1,000 baby sea turtles or hatchlings survives long enough to have its own babies. Threats to their survival include natural predation, diseases, and human activities.
  7. The sex of a baby sea turtle is determined by the temperature of the sand around it. Hot or warm sand produces females and colder sand produces males. The saying goes: "hot girls and cool guys".
Okay, so all of these facts are super cool...except number 6. We love sharing our home with these incredible reptiles and don't like the idea that we may be directly or indirectly responsible for their deaths. If you're with us, we've included some take-home tips below on how you can reduce your impact. For more information on sea turtles, you can visit the Sea Turtle Conservancy online. Also, if you can, join the Biscayne Nature Center for a sea turtle release. It is an incredibly moving experience.
  • Turn off lights that are visible from the beach during nesting season. Baby sea turtles can mistake it for the moon, which guides naturally guides them toward the ocean, and can crawl in the wrong direction.
  • Be vigilant. If you see a nesting sea turtle crawling on the beach, turn off all lights, be quiet and stay at least 30 feet away. She can be easily spooked and, if she is, she will leave the beach without laying her eggs.
  • Be careful around marked sea turtle nests. Don't walk over or around them to avoid damaging the delicate eggs.
  • Don't pollute! Sea turtles can eat and be killed by the plastic and garbage that makes it into the ocean. For example, Leatherbacks often mistake plastic bags for their favorite food, jellyfish, and will accumulate them in their stomachs.

Did you know sea turtles nest on our beaches? What was the coolest fact that you learned about sea turtles? Have you ever been to a sea turtle release? Which other of Miami's natural resources would you like to learn more about? Leave a comment below or send us a tweet @ThankYouMiami!

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