joining together to protect sea turtles

Sustainability

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

joining together to protect sea turtles:

education, cooperation, compliance, and a lot of passion

Mix one part education, one part cooperation and a bit of nudging with a large dose of passion. Sprinkle liberally with social media activism. What you end up with is a major commitment to protect mother turtles, their nests, and hatchlings on Miami Beach.
 
After a female turtle was killed by an unidentified vehicle while nesting on the beach earlier this summer, activist Michael DeFilippi noticed a large number of concerns being posted to his Clean Up Miami Beach Facebook group. Wanting the issue to get the attention it deserved, he spun off Turtle Protectors of Miami Beach, which has quickly grown to 250 members. “We had so many posts about it. It needed its own movement,” he said.
 
The group is already having success addressing two of the main concerns – placement of beach furniture that can interfere with turtles laying their eggs and, during the day, allow beachgoers to get too close to the nests, and bright lights that confuse hatchlings who are supposed to follow the moonlight back to the ocean but end up following the lights on buildings to the west instead.
 
The City recently held an education workshop for the public and a separate one for employees and this week held a meeting with Steve Boucher of Boucher Brothers which manages the beach concessions to clarify the rules around placement of beach equipment. A follow up email was sent to all concessionaires regarding the rules with a notice that the City will be strictly enforcing.
 
The rules say beach chairs, day beds, and cabanas may remain on the beach overnight but must be  “…arranged side-by-side, running east and west, immediately adjacent to the Storage Boxes/Concession Huts.” (The City had changed the arrangement during a sand sifting program but now advises concessionaires that program has ended and it is important to go back to these rules especially during the turtle nesting season.)
 
DeFillippi told RE:MiamiBeach, “Once they get into compliance and they get into the rhythm of it, hopefully, they’ll just stay that way. This is all new stuff to them.”
 
Steve Boucher said he learned a lot this week. Previously, he said, the County would move eggs out of nests and release the baby turtles after they hatched. He was not aware the process had changed. “I didn’t find out until a meeting a couple days ago that the actual eggs are left on the beach now. We didn’t know that. The old way, they were removed every time a turtle laid eggs.”
 
Also referencing the turtle death, Boucher said there’s more education, communication, and cooperation now amongst all the stakeholders – the City, County, State, and concessionaires. “Everyone involved took into consideration what would be best for everyone including the turtles,” he said. “We’re going to do a little more than we have to, ensure the turtles have enough room to get back to the ocean. We’re more than willing to do our share.”
 
With changing tides he said, “The beach is never the same. We are going to make a bigger effort to move these day beds back going to east to west so the turtles don’t have a problem with the day beds … behind the lifeguard stands, a kind of high water line.”
 
“Nobody is trying to hurt the turtles,” Boucher said. “The turtles belong here. They were here before us.” At the same time, he said, “We’re still a big beach city … things are out there and we just need to make sure they are placed in positions where they won’t hurt the turtles.” Now that he’s received the educational information, he said, “We’ll be more aware of what’s around, see the identifying marks that a turtle laid eggs. We’re all learning.”
 
Boucher Brothers has 500 employees in the City of Miami Beach. Boucher said he will make it mandatory for all his employees “to pass some type of education program for turtles”.
 
“Five hundred people. That’s a lot of eyes out there that can watch for the turtles as long as they’re educated properly,” he said.
 
Now that he has a better understanding of the nesting process, Boucher said he and his employees will help keep beachgoers away from the nests. Seeing the tape the County puts around the nests to protect them, he said his guests would ask what they were. His answer, “That’s where a turtle hatched their eggs but they’re no longer there. Now we know they are there. Now we know there’s a new methodology.” He said he never understood why the markers were up for so long. He assumed the markers were there to track the locations of where turtles laid their eggs but the length of time they were left on the beach puzzled him. Now he knows the markers are there because the eggs are still there and will remain in place under the baby turtles hatch. “Everyone needs to do a better job now that we know they’re there,” he said.
 
DeFilippi is upbeat.  “I think it’s very positive right now. It seems everyone bought into the direction we’re heading in.”
 
Meanwhile, the Turtle Protectors group is working on bringing beachfront buildings into compliance on their exterior lighting. After tracks from several nests led away from the ocean and toward the road, the group organized a walk around with Code Compliance officers to point out violators. Quickly, the effort has shown results with buildings turning off the bright lights.
 
Coming back to the turtle death, DeFilippi said, “It’s so sad but sometimes something negative needs to happen to wake people up and, thankfully, her death wasn’t in vain. Look how many protections are going to come out of this … hopefully Miami Beach will be a leader in sea turtle protection.”
 
 
 

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Susan Askew
Susan Askew
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