Category Archives: Oceans

Poached Sea Turtle Eggs

Proyecto universitario de estudio y conservacion de tortugas marinas. Trabajo de campo en la Peninsula de Guanahacabibes, Pinar del Rio, 7 al 19 de agosto de 2007. Foto©Rene Perez Massola

Do you like your turtle eggs scrambled, fried or poached? Hopefully, none of those. But some are indulging in the latter. Of seven species of sea turtles, five frequent Florida beaches to lay their eggs.  Unlike tourists, the turtles don’t have an easy or relaxing sojourn. They live most of their lives at sea, migrating up to 1400 miles between feeding grounds and the laying site. They come ashore, each one to the same location where she was hatched, to lay her own clutch of between 70 and 190 eggs, depending on the species.

No maternal nurturing here. She digs a hole, deposits and buries her eggs and returns to the sea. Mating occurs between May and October, so it isn’t unusual to find nests during peak vacation times, particularly in Florida, which has 90% of sea turtle nesting area in the continental United States.

A recent news article reported nests being disturbed on a South Florida beach. Eggs were completely removed from two nests and three others showed signs of interference. All five sea turtle species in Florida are protected and it’s illegal to harm them or their eggs. Under the Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act, stolen eggs carry fines of $100 each, a costly breakfast. More so for the turtles.

A sweet, elderly friend, a self- described Florida Cracker, tells me she and her family consumed turtle eggs when she was a child. “Little did we know,” she says. She has raised three sons, all who became wildlife officers, so I am confident they have more than atoned for those exotic breakfasts.

But in many Central American and Asian countries today, turtle eggs are considered a food source. In some cultures (one in Mexico), turtles are a religious icon and people consume them and their eggs. For hundreds of years, Europeans prized turtle soup. Many Latin and Caribbean cultures consider sea turtle eggs an aphrodisiac. But in this over-fed American culture, anyone who stoops to stealing sea turtle eggs must be either uneducated or gluttonous.

Our Florida turtles, green, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead, face enormous perils besides poaching. Development along nesting beaches pose a huge threat. The hatchlings mostly emerge at night and head for the sea, which sparkles with the moon’s reflection off wavelets. They can easily be confused by lights from human habitations and head the wrong way. These days folks living along the beach are doing much better at keeping outdoor lighting to a minimum, but many simply don’t know or refuse to inconvenience themselves during mating season. 

When they hatch, the tiny turtles make their run to the ocean, dodging sea birds and other predators. Only one in one thousand survive to adulthood. On this, their first outing, they must dodge raccoons, foxes, dogs, birds, ghost crabs, and humans. Once in the water, they become prey for carnivorous fish. Babies and adults are vulnerable to oil spills, marine and shore debris and entanglement in fish nets. Turtle excluder devices (TEDS) ae not consistently used by trawlers. TEDS, which allow turtles to escape nets and prevent them from drowning, are not uniformly required around the Gulf, and are considered a nuisance by many shrimpers.

As if all those obstacles were not enough, climate change is having an effect. Temperature determines the sex of embryonic turtles – and gators. Below 85 degrees F (30 C) males develop. Above 85 degrees, predominantly females emerge. This could certainly affect future breeding.

What’s a turtle to do? Hopefully be encouraged by some good news. At the Archie Carr Wildlife refuge in Brevard County the 2015 season ended with 12,905 sea turtle nests recorded on a thirteen- mile stretch of the refuge. Imperiled species are still working toward recovery. Education is getting better, but there are still those who don’t see their self- gratification as harmful to the beautiful world we were given. Even hefty fines and threat of imprisonment don’t deter the selfish. 

Where to See Sea Turtles

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a list of 23 places where you can see captive sea turtles, many being rehabilitated. They also list 17 organizations permitted to conduct public sea turtle watches. These all take place in June and July and reservations are required. I have observed a turtle laying her eggs and it is an amazing sight. Seeing this lumbering creature drag herself onto the beach and use her flippers to dig a large hole will have you holding your breath with emphatic pangs. You’ll find yourself pulling for her as she slowly deposits a huge amount of eggs. Exhausted, she covers the cache, then again drags herself over the sand and back to the sea. It’s enough to make you want to cheer.

If you do go, call me. I’d love to join you. At there are research and volunteer expeditions you can join, going to Cuba, Nicaragua, Beliz and Costa Rica. When you visit the beach, keep outside lights off from May to October, and close the curtains. Encourage those around you to do the same.  If you live near a beach, volunteer as a monitor, marking nests as tracks are observed. And hope. Hope that those who eat poached sea turtle eggs don’t choke on them, but at least get a good case of indigestion.

Picture credit:  Rene Perez Massola

For more information, go to:,, Sea Turtle Conservancy

Floating Plastic Garbage

Manila Harbour

There are no floating garbage patches in the Pacific, not as we think of them, i.e., floating landfills. There are small aggregates of trash, but the gigantic gyres we’ve been told variously are the size of Texas, or twice the size of Texas, or sometimes even the size of the continent, are not composed of large objects like refrigerators, toys and wreckage from storm-battered buildings. They are, basically, microbits of plastic, the size of salt and pepper. Plastic, which breaks down, but never goes away.

The smaller rafts of plastic debris, more recent intentional or unintentional human castoffs, which haven’t had time to break down, have revealed a surprise to researchers from the University of Florida, traveling with Sea Eduation Foundation. Debris which hasn’t had time to break down, is serving as a micro habitat to several species of Asian crabs, mussels and other small sea creatures. They cannot attach to the plastic, but they can use goose-neck barnacles which are able to attach themselves to the smooth surface of plastic.

My first reaction to this news was, great! At least our garbage in the sea is serving some useful purpose. Silly me. Turns out non-native species are hitching rides on castoffs from both sides of the ocean, traveling to new destinations, becoming invasive. This unexpected consequence of allowing our garbage to reach the sea, has the potential to destroy native species’ habitat.

A recent study estimated that around eight million metric tons of our plastic waste enters the oceans from land each year. How far-reaching are the consequences of our failure to properly dispose of the plastic items we use! If you don’t have recycle bins at your house, apartment complex or business, contact your solid waste department and ask how you can best recycle. If you do recycle, good for you! Be sure to rinse the items, as failure to do so contaminates other items and lowers the value of the recyclable. The plastics that cannot go into the recycle bins should be placed in cans with secure lids, not loosly tossed, but ideally, bagged.

Picture: Manila Harbour

Tired of Tire Reefs


Recently the Florida House proposed $1.8 million, the Senate, $900,000 for new technologies to complement the hand removal of tires from a tire reef off Ft. Lauderdale. Removal? The announcement piqued my curiosity. I remember back in the seventies, creating artificial reefs from tires was a new, promising idea, endorsed by the Army Corp of Engineers.

It seemed like a win/win.  On land, tires were ubiquitous pollutants. Creation of artificial reefs would attract game fish and be a boon to tourist-minded South Florida. It was such an easy, promising project, tire reefs were created off the northeastern United States, in the Gulf of Mexico, and along Asian and African coastlines.

Forward thirty years. Little marine life attached to the tires. When dropped, the two million tires off the Florida coast had been latched together with corrosive nylon restraints which ultimately failed. Storms tossed single tires on a collision course with natural reefs, doing great harm. Hurricanes Opal and Bonnie (1995 and 1998) strew tires across Florida’s beautiful panhandle beaches and popular North Carolina beaches.

Thus began efforts to rid the sea of tires. An experiment by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection would have allowed companies who had damaged sea beds and reefs to mitigate reef destruction by removing tires from Osborne Reef. The state did not follow through on the plan. In 2001 Nova Southeastern University received a grant from NOAA to manually extract tires. 1600 were removed at a cost of $17 per tire.

As part of a training program, DiveExEast07, U S Navy, Army and Coast Guard divers recovered 43,900 at a cost to the state of $140,000. This cost included transportation to a shredding facility in Georgia where the tires were burned as fuel. 2009 saw Army and Navy divers again working to relocate tires caught against a natural reef.

Does burning tires for fuel strike anyone else as foolhardy? The majority of tires placed in our oceans are still there, albeit not in their original locations. The recent pledge by the Florida House and Senate will also fund a study on the environmental benefits of the tire removal program. Really? Don’t we already know what the benefits are? In my mind, the money would be better spent studying ways to remove the tires and do so without creating another environmental disaster, this one in the air we breathe.


It’s a Big Ocean – Go Ahead, Pitch It In


Pulitzer Prize winner  Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2-17-15

Celebrate Oceans Day: Take the Better Bag Challenge

Matacumbe Key 2015

June 8 is World Oceans Day 2015. Why celebrate oceans? 71%: of the Earth’s surface is covered by the global ocean, which is divided, historically into named regions: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic (a sea is mostly surrounded by land). Most countries now recognize the Southern (Antarctic) as the fifth ocean. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) oceans contain 97 % of Earth’s water. The global ocean has a significant effect on our biosphere. Ocean water evaporation is the source of most rainfall and ocean temperatures determine climate and wind patterns. The oceans feed millions, produce oxygen and are home to countless wildlife species.

Once thought to be invulnerable to human activity because of its size, human pressures including overexploitation, unregulated fishing, marine pollution, introduction of alien species, acidification and climate change are affecting this enormous resource.

The United Nations World Oceans Day 2015 theme is Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet. Celebrate by taking The Better Bag Challenge. Commit to using reusable bags instead of disposable for a whole year. Refuse to accept plastic which hurt sea turtles and ocean life everywhere. Visit oceans

Photo: Bonnie Ogle