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Sandcastles, Holes and other Imminent Threats to Sea Turtles

A hawksbill sea turtle off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida

Digging holes and building sand castles at the beach is an all-time favorite activity, but did you know that these activities can severely threaten sea turtles? Females coming ashore to lay their eggs can get stuck or disoriented by them. And new hatchlings making the dangerous dash from their nests to the ocean can fall in holes and get stuck, only to be an even easier meal for predators.

The good news is it is entirely possible to enjoy playing with beach sand, while also being a responsible beach-goer and keeping sea turtles safe! Here are a few tips for being a good steward, while also having a fun day playing in the sand:

🔸 Only dig holes/build castles near the shoreline, far away from dunes and areas where females nest.

🔸 Respect all markers for known nests, and know there are many unknown nests with no markers.

🔸 When you leave, fill in all holes and flatten all sand structures. Leave it the way you found it.

🔸 If you see other people's abandoned holes/structures, do it for them (and we'll just give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn't know better).

Keep reading to learn more about sea turtles

🔸 There are seven different species: hawksbill, green, flatback, loggerhead, Kemp's ridley, olive ridley and leatherback

🔸 Almost all species are listed as vulnerable to critically endangered. The only exception is the flatback sea turtle, which is data deficient.

🔸 Different species have different diets, but examples of their diets include seaweed, seagrass, algae, sponges, crabs, mollusks, jellyfish, salps, crustaceans, lobsters, squid, crabs and urchins.

🔸 It takes a female 20-30 years to be sexually mature, and they come back to nest on the same beach they hatched (incredible!!)

🔸 Only 1 in 1000 to 10,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood. Most become food to predators such as birds, racoons, crabs, fox and fish. Adults can live over 100 years.

Satellite tags can be used for long term studies, like on this hawksbill sea turtle

🔸 The leatherback is the largest and oldest. They can reach up to 9 feet in length and weigh over 2000 pounds. They have been around for 150 million years. They are also the only species separated into their own family, thanks to their smooth, leathery skin instead of a hard carapace covered in scutes.

🔸 Adult green sea turtles are the only herbivores (as babies, they are carnivores).

🔸 Loggerheads are the most common nesting turtles in Florida. It's probably not surprising that the loggerhead has a very large head - that is, of course, how they got their name. They are the largest hard-shelled sea turtle.

🔸 Hawksbills were named for their raptor-like beak. They were almost hunted to extinction due to the beautiful tortoiseshell pattern on their carapace, and today they remain critically endangered.

🔸 Kemp's ridleys are the smallest and prefer to live in areas with sandy or muddy bottoms. They are known for their "arribadas", which means "arrival by sea". They come ashore to nest in huge groups. When this phenomena was first discovered in 1947, around 40,000 females would nest together. Those numbers are much lower today, due to poaching, pollution, habit destruction and drowning in shrimp nets, and they are the most endangered of all the sea turtles. Today, an arribada might consist of only 400 or fewer individuals. They mostly nest in Mexico. Huge conservation efforts are underway to ensure their survival.

🔸 Olive ridleys, like the Kemp's ridley, are also a smaller turtle. They also nest in arribadas, in groups of up to a thousand individuals. They nest off the coasts of Central America and India.

🔸 Flatbacks are named for their flattened carapace. They are the only sea turtle not found in the United States, and only found off the coasts of Australia and Papua New Guinea.

There are many things threatening sea turtles' survival. Here are a few easy things you can do to help:

🔸 Not only clean up after yourself, leave the beach cleaner than how you found it. Bring gloves and a trash bag and clean up, even if only a little. Things like fishing line and plastic can entangle turtles, or they can ingest trash they think is food.

🔸 Never buy any turtle product. It's illegal in most countries, but that still doesn't stop people from trying to profit off poached turtle parts.

🔸 Never touch or grab a sea turtle. If you're lucky enough to get close to one, enjoy their presence for a moment, then leave them be.

🔸 And, in my opinion, the most important of all - teach the next generation to love sea turtles and other wildlife, so they feel empowered to make better decisions than we have.

My son in awe, at SeaWorld Orlando
My face every time I go diving and get to swim with a sea turtle!

"In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand​. We will understand only what we are taught." - Baba Dioum


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