A Rare Encounter
By Ashley Anderson
Editor’s Note: Here in Central Florida, we are most familiar with sea turtles on our beaches during nesting season, yet these marine creatures can be encountered in the water as well. Please visit our Loggerhead Lowdown blog here over the next week as some of our writers and STPS members describe their own experiences with sea turtles in the water.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the rarest, most endangered sea turtle in the world. On December 1, 2019, I swam alongside a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, and to this day, I have not stopped thinking about this sighting. Seeing this animal alive and thriving has had me in awe ever since. The photographer inside of me regrets not capturing a picture. However, the adventurer and the conservationist inside of me can’t help but feel incredibly fortunate that I did not have a camera. I encountered an up-close moment with no distraction, fully present in a moment that I may never get to relive. I can clearly remember the olive-grey color and the triangular-shaped head. I remember the grace of its flippers, allowing it to hover over Breakers Reef as the sunlight penetrated through the water, highlighting the glimmer in its eyes. I don’t think any encounter could top one such as this.
Seeing this animal opened my eyes to a problem that needs to be addressed quickly. I was shocked to see a sea turtle thriving in the environment it was supposed to be living in. These beautiful turtles are becoming rarer and endangered because of our lifestyles. Today many people want to “save the turtles,” but are unaware of the larger picture. I’m afraid that skipping a straw to save a turtle is becoming more of a trend. Keeping a Kemp’s ridley and all of its family members healthy is going to take more than replacing your straw with a metal straw for the day. I attempt to replace straws as often as possible because I do believe that a little bit can go a long way; it just will not go far enough.
National Geographic says that the original cause of the endangerment to the Kemp’s ridley turtle was the overharvesting of eggs during the last century. While nesting grounds are now protected, commercial fishing lines are now one of the top causes of deaths in the species. In third place, pollution and marine debris are also responsible for the decrease in Kemp’s ridleys. While these animals primarily feed on crabs, plants, and floating algae, they also are known to eat jellyfish. We, as humans, can differentiate a plastic bag from a stinging organism; however, turtles are not able to decipher a bag from a jellyfish and often get hurt attempting to digest our garbage. With these factors, the turtles have not been able to rebound, and it is negatively affecting our underwater ecosystems. Sea turtles are a fundamental link for the survival of our oceans. Without them, our oceans will decline rapidly. So aside from removing plastic straws, what can you do to help turn this problem around?
Although you may be reducing your waste, this does not mean everyone else is. Participate in local beach cleanups if you are fortunate enough to live near the coast. Carry reusable bags and water bottles to limit waste. Aside from removing single-use plastics, keep nesting beaches safe and dark at night for the arrival of new baby sea turtle eggs. If you are financially able, invest! Ocean conservation is expanding, and thousands of companies are attempting to keep our oceans blue. Finally, believe that what you are doing is making a difference!
Having a personal understanding of how endangered these animals are has helped me further understand the importance of protecting them and our oceans. I am determined to see positive results in our oceans. Like turtles, the ocean is resilient. With just a little bit of help from us, we will see the blue, magnificent sea thrive once again.