How is this 'smashcastle' hurting sea turtles? Read on to find out.
When you first look at this photo, I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, “What a beautiful sunrise.” But if you look closely, you will see a threat lurking on the sand. The remains of a sandcastle built the day before and half washed down by the ocean is more than troublesome to sea turtles.
From the time hatchlings emerge from their nest buried in the sand, they’ve already had the odds stacked against them. A very daunting fact is that only one in 10,000 sea turtle hatchlings born will ever make it to adulthood. Humans have sadly contributed to this fact. With six out of the seven species of sea turtles on the endangered species list, it is up to us to help try to save them from extinction. If sea turtles were to go extinct, it would create a big problem not only for the ocean, but also for the beach dunes as well. One specific species of sea turtles called Leatherbacks enjoys the taste of jellyfish for their main source of food. Could you imagine the amount of jellyfish that would be roaming the oceans if we didn’t have the Leatherbacks gobbling them up? We’d be getting stung left and right! We can also give a big round of applause to all the female sea turtles that come to nest on our beaches. It is because of them and the nutrients their nests provide that our dunes can continue to flourish. This is most important for our coastal communities since dunes can protect us from flooding and storm surges.
Let’s get back to that half-washed-away sandcastle in the photo. Most people don’t know that sea turtles have very poor vision on land. When the hatchlings, which are smaller than your palm, start making their trek to the ocean, they are faced with numerous natural obstacles, including drift wood and sargassum brought in by high tide. Start adding sandcastles, holes dug by beachgoers, and personal belongings to the mix, and you can see why these little guys/gals have such a low rate of survival. If the hatchlings bump into sandcastles or personal belongings, they can get disoriented and end up in the dunes or even a tasty meal for a land predator. Picture a hatchling who just came out of an egg the size of a ping pong ball trying to make it to the ocean, only to fall into one of those holes people dig as a place to sit. There is absolutely no way that little guy/gal can crawl on out on its own.
The “roadblocks” can also affect the females coming to nest. If an obstacle is large enough and she can’t find her way past them, she may end up heading back into the ocean, only to release her eggs there where they will never incubate. This brings us to how it all began for me - HOLES. I started seeing stories on the news and numerous social media sites about these 300-lb. sea turtles getting stranded in these massive holes dug by beachgoers. This can not only cause stress and injury to them, but also kill them if they are not found. After doing much research in my local community and finding out there was not a group, business or non-profit, in the area that patrols the beach for these hazards, I decided to create one myself. I pitched the idea to my local non-profit where I volunteer, and that is how Boca Save our Beaches Hole Patrol began. I now run a “Hole Patrol” with volunteers where we fill in the holes, flatten the sandcastles, clear debris to make paths from the nests to the ocean, and educate beachgoers why we do what we do!
I know this article is coming during the close of sea turtle nesting season, but it will begin again in just a few short months. So share this with your friends, snowbirds and family alike so we can not only respect the locals, but also help save a species that does more than we ever knew. If there is not a similar group near you, just remember that YOU can make a difference. It only takes a thought and a willingness to make it happen.