What Happens When 1,200 of the Creatures Wash Up on a Beach?
Loveladies — The Lighthouse International Film Festival will screen the acclaimed documentary “Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction” at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, located at 120 Long Beach Blvd. in Loveladies. The doors will open at 6:30.
Surf City’s Firefly Gallery will have unique turtle art merchandise for sale; Island artist Prax Serrano will have his turtle paintings on display. A percentage of sales will be donated to the LBI Turtle Nesting Program. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion including ReClam the Bay’s Rick Bushnell, Nancy Rabke from the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Sea Turtle Patrol (featured in the film), Bill Deerr of Sea Turtle Recovery in New Jersey and Kathy Lacey from LBI’s Terrapin Nesting Project.
The screening is sponsored by Firefly Gallery and Yoga Bohemia in loving memory of Jennifer Snyder Bryceland, who loved the sea and its creatures. Tickets are $5 online at lighthousefilmfestival.org or $7 at the door.
Many, probably most, Americans are outraged when they hear Japan, Norway or Iceland is whaling. After all, whales are huge magnificent creatures, and mammals to boot. And didn’t whaling basically lose its purpose when petroleum products replaced whale oil as a source of lighting in the middle of the 19th century? Traditional whaling by indigenous peoples is one thing, but commercial whaling by factory ships, come on already!
Other maritime animals, such as sea turtles, don’t attract as much public attention as whales or even baby seals. But sea turtles are even more endangered than whales. There are seven species of sea turtles – leatherback, green, hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley, Kemp’s ridley and flatback. Only the flatback is not found in U.S. waters; the six remaining species are protected in the United States under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Sea turtles throughout the world face many natural threats. They live in the oceans but must crawl up on land to lay their eggs, which predators such as raccoons, lizards and crabs find a tasty treat. Once the eggs are hatched, birds munch on the hatchlings as they slowly make their way to the sea. They’re still not safe upon arrival because large fish can feast on immature turtles. It is estimated that only 1 in 100,000 hatchlings reaches reproductive adulthood.
As they mature, sea turtles have few natural enemies – sharks and killer whales in the water, occasional jaguars and wild boars on land. Humans, on the other hand, pose many threats on both land and sea.
Poachers both take eggs and kill turtles for their meat. There is a huge if illegal world demand for hawksbill shells, which are used to make jewelry. Sea turtles can be ensnared in nets or hooked on longlines. They can ingest plastics, blocking their digestive systems and eventually starving them. Oil spills can devastate sea turtles, either directly or through the food they eat. Beachfront development can lead to the devastating loss of nesting habitat.
The smallest (usually under 100 pounds), rarest and most endangered species of sea turtle, the Kemp’s ridley, is the subject of “Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction.” It is estimated only 7,000 to 9,000 nesting Kemp’s ridley females remain. No wonder the Kemp’s ridley is listed as “Critically Endangered,” meaning it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. So when a wash-up of Kemp’s ridley turtles that have been “cold-stung” – becoming hypothermic because of long exposure to cold ocean waters – onto a beach occurs, the situation can be downright catastrophic.
Such a wash-up happened in the late autumn of 2014 on the shore of Cape Cod, with more than 1,200 sea turtles, the majority of which were Kemp’s ridley, involved. Dedicated individuals from 10 states and 21 institutions, including the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the New England Aquarium Animal Care Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Coast Guard, responded, creating the largest airlift of an endangered species anywhere in the United States and possibly the world.
Narrated by renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle, the film, directed, filmed, produced and written by Michele Gomes and Jennifer Ting, also explores other attempts to save the Kemp’s ridley such as a joint effort between the Instituto Nacional de Pesca of Mexico, the U.S. National Park Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to protect nesting beaches in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and reestablish nesting beaches on Padre Island National Seashore in Texas.
— Rick Mellerup