World Sea Turtle Day Report from the Field: Saving Florida’s Sea Turtles with Disney Conservation Team Wildlife
As sea turtles are often regarded as sentinels of the ocean, it is only fitting that World Oceans Day is followed by World Sea Turtle Day. Sea turtles captivate us and spark our sense of discovery for the ocean wonders beyond the waves. From the way they gracefully glide through the water – or in Crush’s case, cruise along the EAC- to how they suddenly appear on land after 30 years at sea to lay their eggs and renew the sea turtle life cycle, sea turtles symbolize harmony and serenity in an increasingly chaotic world. While all seven species of sea turtles are either threatened or endangered, there is much we all can do- and are doing- to save them.
Disney Conservation Team Wildlife starts by helping the sea turtles in our own backyard – the beautiful east coast of Florida near Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. Our sea turtle field conservation program, begun in 2003, has grown significantly over the years. More than 50 cast members contribute their time and expertise annually, providing meaningful experiences for more than 40,000 Disney Vacation Club Members and guests. Since our program’s inception, we have documented nearly 17,000 nests from three sea turtle species and recently celebrated the millionth baby sea turtle hatched on our five-mile stretch of beach.
As I write this post, sea turtle nesting season is in full swing here in Florida and the ladies have been busy! We are thrilled to see an increase in both leatherback, our rarest species, and loggerhead sea turtle nests. Check out our current nest numbers below!
In these challenging times, Team Wildlife remains committed to our critical conservation work. Our small, but mighty team of scientists has been on the beach every day this summer conducting sea turtle nest surveys and marking nests to help protect them.
Based on the number of loggerhead nests we find in Florida, one might think that loggerheads are common. In fact, loggerheads are rapidly declining in many other critical habitats worldwide. We are fortunate that so many turtles nest on beaches near Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and we take our responsibility for conserving them very seriously. Part of our work is evaluating the many potential threats they face – like disturbance during nesting, coastal armoring such as seawalls, artificial light pollution on nesting beaches, plastic pollution, and bycatch and entanglement from fisheries gear. We even monitor our own sea turtle walk program to ensure that it doesn’t negatively impact our turtles.
We are proud of our work on the threats to sea turtles, but know that we can contribute even more. We must take action individually, in our communities, and worldwide. And Disney is doing just that.
We have outfitted Disney’s Vero Beach Resort with sea turtle-friendly lighting to ensure nesting females and hatchlings do not become disoriented on their way back to sea. Additionally, the Disney Conservation Fund has helped protect six species of sea turtles by providing nearly $4 million to support community conservation programs around the world including the TREE Foundation’s sea turtle conservation program in India, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Tortuguero program – longest running sea turtle research program in the world, and the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida, which is working to reverse the decline of Florida’s sea turtles.
(Credit from left to right: TREE Foundation, Sea Turtle Conservancy, and Alan Bolten)
What can you do to protect sea turtles on this World Sea Turtle Day and beyond? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Minimize your use of single use plastic, and dispose properly of all trash. All waterways lead to the ocean, and plastic floating in city canals eventually ends up in the sea.
- Turn your lights off at night. Even if you don’t live near the beach, many wildlife species like birds and bats rely on dark skies to navigate safely.
- Choose sustainably sourced seafood. If you’re not sure how to do this, download the Seafood Watch Guide app created by our friends at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- Share your love for sea turtles with others! Passion for nature is contagious.
- Learn more about sea turtles by visiting Disney Animals, checking out @DrMarkAtDisney for all things animals, science and environment, and following @DisneyConservation’s #BigBlueWorld series on Instagram to learn more about the conservation work we do and support in the big ol’ blue!