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entangled leatherback sea turtle Leatherback sea turtle entangled. Photo credit: Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS)
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June 16, 2017
Contact: Heather Soulen

Four Things You Can Do to Help Sea Turtles Every Day of the Year

Marine megafauna like sea turtles can influence the health and function of marine ecosystems around the world. Some sea turtles are capable of migrating thousands of kilometers, transporting energy, nutrients, and other materials through several marine ecosystems along the way. As water temperature rises in the western Atlantic each spring, adult and juvenile loggerheads (Caretta caretta), leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea), greens (Chelonia mydas), Kemp's ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii), and even hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata) migrate northward towards important foraging and developmental areas. Because of migration, sea turtles encounter all kinds of environmental conditions and human impacts that can threaten their survival. Fortunately, we can help lessen our impact. By altering some of our behavior just a little, we can help protect and conserve our threatened and endangered sea turtles.

Reduce the amount of garbage in coastal and marine waters

Sea turtles can become tangled in plastic and trash in coastal and marine environments. Fishing line, balloons, and plastic bags not only entangle sea turtles, but can also be confused with food and eaten, potentially resulting in injury or death. One way to reduce the amount of fishing line that enters coastal and marine waters is to recycle it in recycling receptacles placed around marinas, fishing piers, and beaches. Also, use barbless circle hooks when fishing. Not only do you reduce the injury and mortality of fish you release back into the water, but it also reduces the risk of injury and mortality among protected marine species that could accidentally ingest a fishing hook. When celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or graduation, maybe forego the balloons. Ask for paper bags at grocery stores or bring your own reusable bag instead of using plastic grocery bags. Use refillable water bottles and do without single-use plastics like straws and utensils to help reduce the amount of plastic that enters coastal and marine waters. Another great way to reduce the amount of garbage in our waterways is to participate in coastal and beach clean-ups.

Keep a sharp eye while boating

Because sea turtles breathe air, they have to come to the surface of the water which makes them vulnerable to boat strikes. Fortunately, boat strikes can be prevented by steering around the sea turtles and slowing down in areas where they’re likely to be. Try to leave at least 50 yards between your boat and sea turtles, and if you find them closer simply put the engine in neutral to avoid injuring them. Try to avoid schools of small fish or jellyfish, as sea turtles may be lurking about looking for a meal. Also, wear polarized glasses to help spot and avoid striking sea turtles and other wildlife while boating.

Don’t feed the wildlife

Feeding any wildlife, including turtles, can cause direct and indirect harm to animals. Feeding wild animals often interferes with their nutrition, metabolism, and system function. It can also habituate them to humans and can encourage them to seek out humans, putting them at further risk for entanglement and strikes. Feeding can also set the stage for encounters with wildlife tha are dangerous to humans. Feeding wildlife is harmful and illegal. Remember, all sea turtle species in U.S. waters are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

See something, say something

If you see an injured, entangled, or stranded sea turtle, please call the appropriate authorities in your area. You can find a comprehensive list of members of the sea turtle stranding and disentanglement network throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northwest Atlantic region by visiting NOAA’s Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network’s website or calling the NOAA Fisheries Service Northeast Region stranding hotline: 866-755-NOAA (6622). While entangled turtles need immediate assistance, it’s important that trained responders of the Sea Turtle Disentanglement Network handle sea turtle entanglements. Disentangling a turtle can not only harm untrained persons, but it could even make the entanglement worse. The best course of action is to call the hotline, stand by at a safe distance until responders arrive, and direct responders to where the sea turtle is.

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