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Protecting Sea Turtles

How policies and nonprofits work together in ocean conservation

Here at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, we often talk about the importance of sea turtle conservation. We see the beauty they add to our oceans and the joy they bring to our community. But how are these captivating creatures actually protected? Let’s dive into the nebulous depths of policy and community efforts to find out!

Because sea turtles are international migrators across the oceans, sea turtles are an international responsibility.

Around the world

One of the most important international treaties that protects sea turtles is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, also known as CITES. This treaty helps stop poachers from hunting sea turtles, and prevents sea turtles and sea turtle products from being bought and sold internationally. Additionally, many countries have collaborated with their neighbors to address challenges specific to their corner of the world. These regional agreements have worked to prevent sea turtle by-catch and create marine protected areas.

The most important law in the U.S. that protects sea turtles is the Endangered Species Act. This law was passed in 1973 to protect endangered and threatened species and their critical habitats.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists leatherbacks and loggerheads as vulnerable. Green sea turtles are listed as endangered, while hawksbills and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are critically endangered. All five of these species live in Florida waters. Although all seven sea turtle species are globally classified as endangered or vulnerable, it also means they are all protected here in the United States under the ESA, which makes it illegal to harass, hurt or kill sea turtles.

In Florida

Florida has some unique laws of its own that seek to further protect sea turtles and their ocean homes. If someone wants to build on the beach in Florida, the state must review their construction permit twice to ensure that it will not harm sea turtles. Many cities in South Florida, including Juno Beach, have ordinances that prohibit artificial lighting along the beaches during nesting season. This allows for females to nest and sea turtle hatchlings to hatch safely.

These conservation laws have turned the tides for our threatened sea turtles and their populations are generally increasing around the world. In 2017, LMC’s research biologists documented a record-breaking 19,000+ nests on the 9.5 mile stretch of beach we monitor. Though we still have a lot to learn about these long-lived species, certain populations are on the upward trend, largely in part from these various policies. The laws also help draw more awareness to the charisma of sea turtles and their important role in our oceans.

But there is still work to do. While these laws and policies are definitely encouraging, they alone are not enough to ensure the protection of sea turtles for generations to come. With rising issues such as increased marine pollution, sea turtles face new and rapidly approaching threats and need even more advocates. Policymakers need scientific research, innovative conservation projects and community willpower, which LMC provides, to create policies that will help protect sea turtles and our world ocean.

LMC works with over 70 conservation partners, including Florida Fish & Wildlife and NOAA, across six different continents to share knowledge, develop innovative solutions and better understand global perspectives on sea turtle protection. By rehabilitating sick and injured sea turtles, conducting monthly beach cleanups, and leading pollution prevention campaigns, we seek to inspire people to practice ocean conservation every day.

There is no one-stop solution – no one person or piece of legislation can protect our world alone. It takes a combined effort from governments, nonprofits, businesses and individuals to recognize that they can make a difference. It takes devotion and love and solidarity from all fronts. It takes a village.

Written by Mikayla Brody, 2018 marketing intern. Mikayla is studying international environmental affairs at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.