On Tuesday, July 27, Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) and the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research (ACCSTR) at the University of Florida launched the Sea Turtle Protection Zone (STPZ) in Palm Beach County. The STPZ is geared to protect sea turtles from unintended boat strikes during nesting season between March 1 and October 31.
This initiative is voluntary and extends one mile offshore from the Jupiter Inlet to the Lake Worth Inlet. The STPZ recommends that boaters avoid traveling within the designated area, operating at the slowest speed possible when in the zone, and wearing polarized sunglasses to better spot wildlife on the surface.
According to the Sea Turtle and Stranding Network, sea turtle vessel strikes have tripled in Florida since 1980. During nesting season, sea turtles spend an increased amount of time on or near the water's surface adjacent to nesting beaches, which puts them at a greater risk of boating injuries.
“The goal of the STPZ is to work alongside the Palm Beach County boating community to ensure the ocean remains a safe and peaceful environment for sea turtles and boaters alike,” said LMC Conservation Manager, Katie O’Hara. “To achieve this goal, the STPZ promotes science-based recommendations to help prevent harmful interactions between vessels and threatened and endangered sea turtles.”
Findings show that the majority of county boaters would be willing to voluntarily slow their speeds to help safely share local waters with sea turtles. To strengthen its impact, LMC and ACCSTR have partnered with local marinas and boating stores to display and distribute educational materials, including stickers, public awareness videos, pamphlets, and more.
“Each year, from March to October, tens of thousands of sea turtles migrate to Florida beaches to lay their eggs, and Palm Beach County is a high-density area for sea turtle nesting,” said Dr. Cathi Campbell, ACCSTR Adjunct Assistant Scientist. “Adult female sea turtles are especially important to the recovery and stability of their nesting populations. During nesting season, many sea turtles spend extended periods resting within a mile offshore either on or close to the water’s surface while they prepare for their next nesting event, making them even more susceptible to unintended boat strikes.”
Prior to the launch, LMC and ACCSTR collected speed data and conducted boater surveys to identify how pilots can best work together to protect nearby sea turtles. Both organizations will determine the success of the STPZ by evaluating pre-and post-implementation data on vessel speeds, surveys, strandings, and the number of sea turtles admitted to local sea turtle hospitals with sustained injuries.
This project was funded by the Disney Conservation Fund and a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded by proceeds from Florida Sea Turtle License Plate sales.