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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Florida’s latest assault on sea turtles and why the global community should be concerned

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Introduced by Jeff Goodman

In this time of dramatic climate change, habitat destruction, over fishing and species loss around the world, one would hope that governments and local authorities would be pro-active in legislation, education and direct action to address all these issues in a positive way. Ashamedly this is all too often not the case. A prime example of this is the plight of the Sea Turtles in Florida as witnessed and reported by Staci-lee Sherwood, Founder & former Director S.T.A.R.S. Sea Turtle Awareness Rescue Stranding , former founding member and staff  Sea Turtle Oversight Protection & former staff at Highland Beach statewide morning survey program.


By Staci-lee Sherwood

Florida is THE  major nesting habitat for Loggerheads and one of the few places left for Leatherbacks.  You would think being home to such endangered species Florida would work to ensure their survival but that’s not the case. In 2008 Richard and Zen Whitecloud were struck by how few hatchlings actually made it to the water because of all the light pollution from the land.

A nighttime rescue program was started in the hopes of saving any hatchlings that crawled toward all the artificial light that drew them like a powerful drug.  Sea Turtles hatch and follow the bright sea horizon which for millions of years was the east blanketed by millions of shining stars and the moon. Not anymore, now the west is so illuminated by all the artificial lights the hatchlings think that is home and crawl towards it. They will follow the lights until they end up being run over by cars, fall into a storm drain or die from exhaustion and dehydration.  Every morning the beaches throughout the state would be covered with death tracks going everywhere other then the ocean.  This was no secret no mystery.

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As far back as 1996 Dr Kirt Rusenko, who ran the Sea Turtle program in Boca Raton for over 25 years, stated The lighting in Broward County is minimally better than it was 20 years agoreferring to the lack of local laws and abysmal enforcement or guidance from the state. When I began work as Marine Turtle Permit Holder #041 in 1996, I thought the many sea turtle hatchling disorientation reports I sent to FWC would make a difference.”  Time has shown that not to be the case. Death by light pollution is a global problem that negatively impacts many species.

The same year I joined this small dedicated group of rescuers I also started to work the morning survey on a state permit.  This was the only program that actually had conservation elements to it.  It involved recording any crawls and marking all new nests. I did this program everyday for 9 seasons while also doing the night time rescue program almost every night for 11 years.  The morning survey was on Highland Beach, a very dark quiet beach where light pollution was kept to a dull roar and disorientation (DO) by hatchlings was a rarity. The hatchling tracks from the nest to the water went almost in a straight line, they did not fan out into a triangle. I saw thousands of nests over the years and it was always the same: straight to the ocean on Highland Beach but the tracks were all over the place in Broward and most of the other state beaches.

According to Sea Turtle Oversight Protection’s (S.T.O.P.) own data they have, to date, rescued approx 250,000 hatchings that would have died from light pollution in the past 10 years. That means they only rescue about 25,000 hatchlings a year or about 10% that disorientate. We know that Broward County has a disorientation rate of about 75% based on 10 years of record keeping while many other counties have an equal or greater light pollution problem.  Because there is never anyone out there at night to save the hatchlings or record their death it’s easy to dismiss this and frame it as a local county problem and not a statewide problem.  In Broward about  25% of all hatchlings that make it out of the nest actually make it on their own to the water.  That means maybe 35-40% of all baby sea turtles make it to the water but only with a rescue and from there they face a toxic soup in polluted waters and a lifelong perilous journey.  This was the nightmare I witnessed for 11 years.  No other county has anyone out at night, no other Sea Turtle program involves nighttime rescue.

According to state data for 2020 they had a total of 133,493 nests (Loggerhead, Green and Leatherback).  At a DO statewide rate of approx 50%, this could mean a loss of approx 6.671.650 hatchlings that could have made it to the water.  Once in the water it’s estimated that hatchlings have a 1 in 10,000 chance to make it to adulthood.  But first they have to get into the water.

In the modern era that is no longer feasible, even if the agency wanted to assist  them there are just too many light sources.  At such a low rate of survival it’s not sustainable long term; this species cannot survive by losing so many hatchlings.  I have long felt that indoor hatcheries with a controlled temperature is the only chance to prevent or stave off extinction.  This would allow hatchlings to emerge without losing millions to light pollution

In a 2020 permit holders meeting conducted by the state, they had a workshop of agencies and NGO’s about the light pollution problem. Not one person from any agency, not one person from any group had ever rescued a disorientated hatchling or been to Broward to see the rescue program, or had any firsthand in-the -field knowledge of the problem. Not one actual rescuer was involved but they should have been.

In utter disbelief to those rescue volunteers, the state decided to pull most of the permits S.T.O.P. had for their volunteers and end the program all together next year. This severe downsize is only for this year as next year rescue programs will cease and the death rate for hatchlings will soar once again.  How will the turtles ever be able to hang on ?

In the words of a local resident who has seen first hand the work the rescuers do and understands the need to keep them: “These volunteers are a vital presence in our community; As residents, we urge the individuals responsible for permits to give thoughtful reconsideration of any plan that would reduce or impede the work of these volunteers.. As with these giant sea turtles, the overall impact of this volunteer effort is irreplaceable. Sincerely, Linda Thompson Gonzalez & Mario E. Palazzi.

Many local residents chimed in that last year they “saw so many tracks in the morning that were going everywhere except the ocean.”  It’s clear that these newborn Sea Turtle’s survival is tied to whether or not there is someone out there to pick them up and place them in the water

According to Casey Jones, founder of Sea Turtle Watch in Jacksonville: “It’s definitely going to be heartbreaking to lose hatchlings because of the volunteers not being able to be out there on the beach,” Jones explained. He said the focus needs to be on the bright lights that attract turtles to the land, which he claims, end with almost certain death. Like I said this is a statewide problem.

Many people who witness a Sea Turtle nest hatch for the first time can’t believe the light problem is that bad. Then suddenly a nest hatches and they all scamper in every direction. They suddenly cry out ‘OMG, catch them, hurry where did they go?’  Then they look at all those artificial lights, start counting all those nests and the numbers in their head start churning. Now they actually see how it could never be just a few hundred hatchlings or a rare occurrence but a nightly horror show that never ends.

If you would like to help please contact the following and politely ask they reinstate the rescue permits ASAP:

  1. Robbin Trindell admin sea turtle programs for Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Robbin.Trindell@myfwc.com    850.922.4330
  2. Meghan Koperski signs off on all permits for Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission  Meghan.Koperski@myfwc.com    561.575.5407

For more information about the plight of Florida’s Sea Turtles contact: Richard Whitecloud Director of S.T.O.P. on Whitecloud@seaturtleop.org

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Ahmed Fadel and Elke Bojanowski from Scuba Scene Liveaboard in the Red Sea (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Ahmed Fadel and Elke Bojanowski from Scuba Scene Liveaboard in the Red Sea, Egypt.

Ahmed started working as safari guide in 2000 giving him unique experiences exploring the southern Egyptian Red Sea. It gave him a great opportunity to learn and gain a lot of experience in the nature of the Red Sea, and also qualified him to become the author of the book Southern Red Sea Dive Guide.

He is also an experienced dive instructor since 1997 and an experienced Tech instructor up to the level of Advanced Trimix.

Working for a number of reputable companies has given Ahmed an in-depth understanding of the nature of boats and the way they have developed over the years, as well as great connections to the local crews and staff.

Elke moved to Egypt in April 2004 after completing her Ph.D. in biology (focusing on the behaviour and communication of bottlenose dolphins), to combine her interests in marine biology and diving.

Using Egyptian liveaboards as a platform, she started collecting data on shark populations, while working as a guide in the Red Sea since October 2004.

In 2012 she founded – and is still running – the Red Sea Sharks Trust, an officially registered charity in the UK. This is the umbrella organisation for a variety of projects on sharks, including the biggest database for Oceanic Whitetip Sharks in the world.

The general goals of this charity are to collect as much information on sharks as possible to be made available for shark conservation, and to increase the awareness among divers about the problems and conservation issues that sharks are facing worldwide

Besides collecting scientific data, Elke is giving educational presentations and seminars for the guests on board her Marine Park trips, covering shark topics such as: species identification, biology and behaviour, and conservation and research.

Since January 2019, all diveguides working on liveaboards in the Egyptian Red Sea have had to attend a mandatory seminar on guidelines and safe diving practices for interactions with Oceanic Whitetip Sharks. The seminar written and presented by Elke has been attended by more than 1400 guides and other dive professionals to date.

Find out more at https://scubasceneliveaboard.com


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Top 5 Party Guests: The Magic of Night Diving in Cozumel

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A blog by Pro Dive International

*Header image: On the day of our planned night dive at the Allegro Cozumel, we had to reschedule, as any water activity during thunderstorms and lightning is considered dangerous. We still thought it was worth sharing this breathtaking spectacle with you.*


Have you ever gazed out at the open ocean at night wondering what happens down there as the sun disappears over the horizon and darkness sets in? If all marine life will be sleeping, or if there’s anything creeping along the reefs?

Here’s what really happens, including a list of our Top 5 Party Guests that make you want to add night diving in Cozumel to your bucket list.

Brief Overview

While the Caribbean Sea is not calming down at night due to the effectively constant trade-winds in the tropics that drive ocean wave trains and cause waves to break throughout day and night, a vibrant party under the sea is just about to begin, as huge basket stars unfurl their arms into the night, parrotfish create their mucus bubble beds, giant lobsters, king crabs and octopus prepare for hunt, and bioluminescence sparkles up the scene.

TOP 5 Party Guests

1. Basket Stars

These sea stars can only be observed in their true glory at night when they unfurl their many branched arms into the darkness to filter food from the water. Some reach nearly a meter in size! Shine your torch on them and watch them curl their huge arms back towards their mouths as they eat the small creatures attracted by your light. 

The perfect party costume, do you agree?

Basket Star by Elizabeth Maleham @Pro Dive International

2. Cephalopods – Octopus & Squid

These fascinating creatures are rarely spotted during day dives, but at night you can see them out and about hunting the reef for their next meal. Watch as they move about changing colors and patterns in the blink of an eye! Below is a picture of an octopus spreading its body wide over the reef like a net to encircle its prey.

Did you know that octopuses were that colorful?

Octopus by Elizabeth Maleham @Pro Dive International

3. Crustaceans

Safely tucked away in the back of a crevice during the day, these creatures venture out under the cover of darkness to hunt. A fantastic opportunity to finally get a close-up look at all those king crabs and plenty of lobsters you have only seen as small eyes peering out from the back of a cave.

Up for a dance?

Crab by Elizabeth Maleham @Pro Dive International

4. Parrotfish

Many fish only half sleep, needing to be alert to the dangers 24/7, but parrot fish have evolved an ingenious warning system so they can get their eyes shut. As night draws in, they find a nook to rest in and start to create a mucus like a bubble encircling their whole bodies. They can rest safely in this for the entire night, but if anything disturbs this veil, they are off like a shot into the dark!

How did this sleepy guy make it into our Top 5?

Parrotfish in Cozumel by Guillermo Reta @Pro Dive International

5. Bioluminescence

For those not familiar with this natural phenomenon, bioluminescence is a chemical process which allows living creatures like plankton, tiny crustaceans, some fish, squid and algae to produce light in their body to either attract prey, confuse predators, or lure potential mates.

As the bioluminescent sea will glow when it’s disturbed by a breaking wave or a splash in the water at night, for most of our divers the best part is covering up the torches and waving our arms about disturbing the bioluminescence into sparkling blue points of light. 

This makes the perfect party glitter!

Bioluminescence @Dreamstime


Already in a party mood? Pack your dive gear!

How to join the underwater party in Cozumel?

  1. Join Pro Dive International’s Cozumel Night Dives as a certified diver.
  2. Boost your skills and make your night dive one of the 5 Adventure Dives of the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course.
  3. Contact us for guidance.


Contact:

reservations@prodiveinternational.com 

www.prodiveinternational.com/contact-us

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Egypt | Simply the Best Itinerary | 04 – 11 November 2021 | Emperor Echo

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies with a ‘Book 5 and 1 dives for FREE’ offer all year round.

Price NOW from just £1275 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including:

  • Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox

Subject to availability.
Alternative departure airports available at supplement.

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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