Not many people get to take part in releasing baby sea turtles back into the wild, but thanks to my best friend Sam (who is a sea turtle research volunteer), Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and the sea turtle labs at Florida Atlantic University, I had the amazing opportunity to send the cute little buggers on their way to their forever home.
Gumbo Limbo Sea Turtle Release
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is best known for their involvement with protecting and rehabilitating sea turtles in the area. The center is part of Red Reef Park in Boca Raton, FL. It is home to a sea turtle research facility for Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Biological Sciences. In this research facility, students study the behaviors of the turtles to help work toward sea turtle conservation. They also educate the public on how to keep from disturbing the nesting mothers or the hatchlings as they are on they’re way to begin their journey of life.
The collection of data for a sea turtle study begins with the selection of 10 to 12 nests along the beach, where each selected nest gets its own temperature device that records nest temperatures over the span of 45 to 60 days, the incubation period of the soon-to-be hatchlings. Once the eggs have hatched, about 100 hatchlings are collected from each nest and are temporarily sent to the lab for the study.
Sea Turtle Research at Gumbo Limbo
Over the span of about three months, researchers, like my friend Sam, collect specific data from each turtle. They record their weight, length and width, how much they eat and any unusual behavior. At the end of this period, a non-harmful procedure is done to determine the sex of the turtles. After all these steps are completed, they are assigned to people like Sam. Sam then guides the turtles to their permanent home in the ocean.
Sea turtle releases take place late at night while there is little to no human activity on to disturb them. Once upon a time, there used to be a world where there was no such thing as street lights, cars, or cell phones that give off the unnatural lighting that confuses the turtles as to which direction they need to go. Scientists believe that turtles travel towards the brightest horizon, as the dark, tree-covered dunes contrast with the reflective glow of the ocean.
Today turtles often get disorientated by the amount of incandescent light coming from the opposite direction of the ocean. For this reason, some baby see turtles never make it to the ocean. They can burn up on the sand the next day when the sun is out. Or, turtles end up getting lost on their way to the water and can’t find their way back.
On a Friday night during summer, most college students are going to a party, going out, or having a Netflix party of one with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in hand (low-key, my life). But on this particular Friday night in mid-August, I was taking part in something that most people dream of doing. I was physically holding and releasing sea turtles out into the ocean. I learned more about sea turtles in this 30-minute excursion than I ever have before. There’s nothing like learning from hands-on experience. Watching their little arms wiggle and wave back at me as I gently set them onto the sand near the shoreline had to have been my favorite part of it all.
Nowadays, it is extremely sad to see how humans interact with ocean life. I mean hooking a shark and then dragging it behind the boat as it is running at a high speed? Come on people, have some respect for the beautiful and beloved creatures that are vital to the ocean’s ecosystem. That being said, NEVER shine a light directly onto or nearby a turtle of ANY kind. Turtles are very sensitive to white light and can become disoriented very easily. Photo taking should be done with either a red light, which is not harmful to the turtles, or with flash off at a low light setting. I get it, its very fascinating to see a turtle nesting/hatching in the flesh. But you, have to remember to respect them as they respect you to keep them out of danger.
Now that you know more about sea turtles, why not join the sea turtle conservation efforts to help protect them?
Visit http://www.gumbolimbo.org/volunteers for more information about how to get involved. Read more about you can help protect turtles during sea turtle season.
-by Missy Turco