Balloon Bonanza

Have you ever wondered where a balloon ends up after it floats away?  Well down here in Florida, there’s a good chance it’ll find its way into the ocean, and into a sea turtle’s stomach.  Our patrols found over one hundred balloons on Juno Beach on Sunday and Monday.  Many of them were cheerfully wishing our nesting sea turtles a “Happy Mother’s Day.”  The irony of this message was not lost on our crew, as the bright balloons are particularly troublesome for leatherbacks and other sea turtles.  Once the colored film wears off mylar balloons, they become effective dupes for jellyfish.  These balloon jellies are often mistakenly eaten by foraging adults, and plastic ingestion is detrimental to their health.  Plastic sits in the stomach, signaling to the brain the gut is full of nourishing food.  The animal stops eating because it feels full, when it is actually starving.  Please help keep plastic out of the ocean and out of sea turtle stomachs by holding on to your balloons, or better yet, keeping them indoors and off the beach.  Next year go with flowers for Mother’s Day and the sea turtle moms will thank you as well!

A bunch of balloons caught on a leatherback nest stake.  The ribbons tied to balloons often break off and can entangle emerging hatchlings.

A sample of the collected balloons.  Note the jellyfish like appearance of the bottom balloon without the colored coating.  Never intentionally release balloons: out of sight is straight into a sea turtle’s stomach.

After picking up all that beach trash, we encountered another repeat nester, Iris.  She sure is making a lot of appearances for a leatherback that hadn’t been seen since 2007!  The data we collect from repeat nesters will help us learn how the health of nesting females changes over the course of her reproductive effort.  Remember nesting is a three-month endeavor for sea turtles!  We’ll keep patrolling the beaches to catch her return and hope she brings some friends with her!

Left: Iris with the ultrasound jelly on her shoulder.  We were happy to use minimally invasive techniques on this skittish leatherback.  Right: Iris front flipper covering as she finishes disguising her nest.

Disclaimer: All marine turtle images taken in Florida were obtained with the approval of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) under conditions not harmful to this or other turtles. Images were acquired while conducting authorized research activities pursuant to FWC MTP-17-211.