Nesting for many sea turtles is going well this season — a thumbs up and huzzah to everyone, working to aid, repopulate, and love these wonderful creatures.
On the downside, poaching activities for sea turtle eggs and meat continues in Asia, Mexico, and countries like Costa Rica, where volunteers were seriously threatened last month by a gang perhaps linked to drug trafficking. In some cultures, sea turtles, like other wild (many threatened or endangered) species’ parts or eggs are believed to have aphrodisiac properties when consumed. Apparently, there are risks (of more than a belly-ache) in that special Saturday-night-delight meal.
Up to eight tons of dead endangered sea turtles were seized in central Vietnam in Dec. 2014 , after 4 tons where of the same were confiscated in November 2014. They cost abt. $9US each from fishermen and, turned into jewelry that can sell for $34+/- each piece.
Changing or creating newer, healthier beliefs of any sort is difficult. Perhaps news out of Popular Science (written by Jason Tetro) will send winds of change around the globe: sea turtles can be dangerous to your health and to the health of those you love.Along with Salmonella and e Coli, Tetro reports:
“One of the bacterial genera found within the turtle microbial population is Vibrio. It’s best known for V. cholerae species, the cause of cholera. But another species,V. parahaemolyticus, has been growing in prevalence across the globe. It causes gastroenteritis, wound infection, ear infection and has the potential to cause scepticemia. A third species, V. alginolyticus isless concerning as a pathogen but has caused close to 10% of Vibrio infections at least in oneAmerican study.” Jason Tetro
Electron scanning microscopy of V. parahaemolyticus cells attached to the shell of a crab. Photo courtesy of Carla Ster and Rohinee Paranjpye.
And some of these diseases are resistant to antibiotics, leading, in some cases, long-term implications for the patient. Bacteria that may cause illnesses in people live on the outside of sea turtles, too.
As research on sea turtles continues, it’s time to get the word out, to shift to new belief systems. Someone, please, find a an invasive weed and spread the word it’s the new, better Viagra. May bundles of otherwise useless vegetation sway, drying in the breeze, in once sea turtle slaughter huts.
Click on the ornament to go to Part 1 of A Monarch Christmas
Franca’s Christmas holiday
House-sitting with Marcail ~ “It feels so good to be on a plant with sunshine on my wings!” Franca
House-sitting with Marcail ~ “Here’s where I sit in the bathroom. It’s kind of cold in here, but this plant is the safest. I haven’t fallen off of it, and none of the other animals can get me.” Franca
Katy: What’s new, now that you’re two plus weeks in?
Marcail: I house-sat during Christmas and took Franca with me. She liked it there because the house was warmer than mine. She also had plants to sit on. Sometimes when I got home after work, I’d find she’d fallen off the plant I left her on. Didn’t hurt her, but there were cats in the house, so I made sure they couldn’t get to her.
Not everyone can say they’ve been peed on by a butterfly.
Katy: What a great idea. Now that you are more than two weeks into Franca’s rescue, what’s your hope for her future?
Marcail: I don’t know how old she is, but I have a feeling she’ll make it to warmer weather. Of course I’m hoping to release her. I definitely do not want to keep her as a pet. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve seen so far. I didn’t think she would be so quick to use her legs and wings, and she’s getting stronger. I’m pretty sure she won’t die, unless it’s her time.
Katy: How will you know when it’s time to let her go?
Marcail: I don’t know what conditions prove that she’s able to be released, but I want to see that she’s confident walking, confident flying, and able to find her own food without me putting it in front of her face. I think that would be proof that she can live on her own. My goal is to get her to feed on her own and fly. Then she’s on her way.
Katy: Those sound like reasonable goals. She’s done so well so far. Since she might be around for a while, are you going to make a habitat for her?
Marcail: At this rate, I’ll probably have to get some kind of small cage or terrarium for her to live in until spring. She’s getting more confident walking around and trying to use her wings. I don’t want her to get into trouble.
Katy: I’ve learned a lot following you and Franca. Can you sum up your experience so far?
Marcail: She’s a lot stronger than I thought. I was afraid she would be much more breakable and easily damaged, but she’s not. Caring for her doesn’t take as much time as I expected. I don’t take her to work, so I don’t feed her for a long time during the day. Still, she’s able to make it and keep her strength until I get home. I’m always glad for weekends or holidays where I can stay home and spend a lot of time with her. It’s a lot of time put in, but it doesn’t feel like it. A lot of times I’ll feed her and keep her warm while I’m watching a movie and I don’t notice how much time it takes. I feel like I make it work for my lifestyle and schedule. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but she seems to be doing well anyway.
Katy: Given fall-hatched Monarchs can live up to eight months, she might be hanging around your house another four or five. Enough time to learn a lot more about this beautiful butterfly and her species.
UPDATE: Franca’s beautiful life came, as far we can tell, to a natural end on January 25th. I’m grateful for the chance to have this closer look at the lives on Monarchs.
Visit (and Like) Franca’s Facebook page to keep up with her. I created a puzzle, using a photo of a Monarch (female!) who stopped by my garden this year.
Monarch puzzle. Click on the link above the photo. If 20 pieces is too easy, bump it up to more. Have fun!
Thanks, Marcail and Franca for allowing me to share your story. I’ll be preparing my garden (with native milkweed and flowers) and anxiously watching for Monarchs this spring.
There is tons of information about Monarchs on the Internet. I found some unusual, fun facts. See how many questions you can answer.
1) Franca got caught in a bad rain storm. What is one strategy butterflies use to wait out a storm?
2) Butterflies come in a range of colors, so why are Monarch’s orange?
3) What is a major difference between Monarchs that make the longest migration from Canada to Mexico and shorter migrations(or none), like the Western or resident Puerto Rican groups?
4) What body part(s) help a Monarch fly in the right direction during migration?
5) What is “puddling”?
6) Are Monarchs found in other places than North America?
7) What is the Monarch called in Australia?
8) What bird is immune to the toxin in Monarchs?
1) They hang upside down from a branch, wings folded tight, so the rain will run off their bodies.
2) The color is a warning signal to predators (like birds) that they’ll get a yucky (toxic to some species) mouthful if they chomp down on a Monarch. This is called an “aposematic” signal. Monarch caterpillars only eats milkweed, which contains a poison. The caterpillar’s body stores the poison and passes it on to the adult butterfly during metamorphosis. The Viceroy butterfly doesn’t rely on milkweed, but its color pattern mimics the Monarch’s. It probably sends the same, “better not eat me” message. A color variation where the Monarch’s normally orange areas are replaced by greyish white, originally appeared in small numbers in Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia. A consistent 10% of Oahu, Hawaii’s population have this coloration.
Monarch on left, Viceroy on right. Note the black bar across lower wing on the Viceroy, absent from Monarch. Can you tell whether the Monarch is a male or female? Photo: Wikimedia Commons
3) New research shows size matters if you’re flying long distance. Look at the difference between these Monarchs (top left one is a male-note black scent sacs on underwing and thinner veins). The larger set makes the long migration, the smaller set never migrates out of Puerto Rico. BBC Earth News article, here.
Long-distance Monarch fliers have larger bodies and wings. Photo: used with permission
4) Butterfly ‘GPS’ found in antennae The antennae and brain work together to get Monarchs where they need to go. The butterflies use “a 24-hour clock in their brains in conjunction with their “Sun compass” when they migrate. The antennal clock can sense light independently from the brain and can function independently,” while regulating the brain process. “It’s becoming…clear that the antennae have a number of functions that are independent from being odour detectors. They can function as ears, sensing sound and changes in barometric pressure, and now we can add to the list this function as a timepiece.”
5) When a butterfly takes in moisture and nutrients from damp soil and wet gravel.
6)Yes, two species are wide-spread. Populations are found in New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, and New Caladonia. In Europe: the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira. Also India, Ceylon, Central America and Northern South America-including along the Amazon. And in Hawaii. From: CarnavoraForum.
7) The Wanderer
8) The Black-headed Grosbeak. Other birds, like orioles and jays eat select, less toxic parts of the body. Mice seem less affected by the toxin, too.
Please don’t plant “tropical” milkweed, as there is concern it might be contributing to health issues in Monarchs. Replace it with native milkweed, at the least, cut it back every fall, so it’s not blooming. Read about the issue,here.
Eleven days before Christmas / and all through the town / shoppers aim for the store lights / none notice the ground.
Every December Woodland, CA bustles with people, preparing for the holidays. Sunday the 14th was no exception, as my friends Marcail and her mom, Marjie, finished their shopping at a local mall.
Marjie crossed the parking lot toward her car to wait for Marcail. A flicker of color ~ not Christmas green or red, but true orange ~ caught her attention in a nearby flowerbed. A Monarch butterfly, wings spread, lay motionless on the dirt. She bent and lifted it off the cold ground, first searching its wings for a tiny identification tag. A Santa Barbara native familiar with Monarchs, she once found a tagged butterfly and retrieved information for a group tracking its migration. This downed migrant was tagless.
Behind the wheel, she cupped her palms and blew warm air over the lifeless body. One antenna moved. Marcail opened the car door, sliding into her seat. Marjie handed her daughter the butterfly. It would be up to her to figure out how to care for their new family member ~ if it survived.
In the following days, Marcail’s friends and I fell in love with the “girl and her butterfly” story unfolding on her Facebook page. I realized how little I know about Monarchs, much less how to nurse one back to health. I thought others might benefit from her journey, so Marcail agreed to this interview. The multi-post series combines updates on the butterfly’s progress, Marcail’s photos (used with permission), information on Monarchs, and ways we all can help.
TRIAL AND ERROR FEEDING
Katy: I’ve really enjoyed following the story, Marcail. I know your mom found the butterfly, but you’ve had to take care of it since. Let’s start with what you did when you got the butterfly home.
Marcail: Somehow we knew about keeping it warm and putting sugar water on a cotton ball and letting it drink from it, which it did. This kind of care lasted for a few days, then you and our friend Greg (who knows a lot about butterflies) sent me links about getting other nutrition into it through juice or a mixture of soy sauce and juice. At first it didn’t care for this new concoction, but if I made it much more on the sweet side I could usually get it to drink some.
Katy: You had a few concerns the first couple of days.
Marcail: A couple of hours after we got home, it was barely moving its wings. The antennae were moving much more, but it still wasn’t standing. The wings would move when I picked it up, but stopped when I put it down. I was worried about the missing chunk from her underwing, but Greg said it wouldn’t hurt its flying.
I was also worried because it’s an insect, but I only saw four legs. I found out the other two are tiny and are usually tucked under the head.
I think this video shows it using the front legs to clean its proboscis.
Katy: I see there’s an apple core, maybe a piece of other fruit, in the picture above. What’s that about?
Marcail: I’m trying to incorporate other natural fruits that could give the butterfly more vitamins and minerals than just sugar and water. I give it the juice that oozes out of overripe fruit mixed with sugar water and fruit syrup from jam. I usually put a raisin in it that gets soft as it soaks up the liquids and syrup. I’m hoping the raisins add iron because I’ve heard and read that raisins are high in iron.
12/19: “Well, just when I think “she’s not interested in eating anymore” I find something to perk her up. Some persimmon!” Marcail
Marcail’s Monarch was lucky to be found. A strong, cold storm hit a wide area three days before she crash-landed. Monarchs can’t fly if their body heat is below 86 degrees F.
12/17 “Well, I only fed her in the morning, didn’t have time after work and my next thing, now I can’t get her to eat. feeling frustrated. She probably needs to eat! She does like hanging out near a warm mug of tea though.”
They won’t survive freezing temperatures, especially if they are alone. This butterfly is part of the smaller, Western group whose members live, reproduce, and travel west of the Rockies. They can be found as far north as British Columbia, but they don’t migrate into Mexico, rather only as far south as San Diego. That’s what happens when you leave your passports at home.
Fall Migration Map.” Monarch Butterfly. US Forest Service
The butterfly would have hatched in the late summer or early fall, like its cousins in the Eastern migration group that move from Eastern Canada, through Texas, to Mexico each fall. A small number of the Eastern group fly to Florida where they stay for the winter. The large, Mexico-bound group over-winters in the oyamel fir trees ofMichoacan, Mexico. In the spring, all groups start the search for nectar to eat and milkweed plants on which to lay eggs and nourish the caterpillars when they hatch.
One of Marcail’s original concerns was the butterfly was not standing. It took a awhile, but on Day 6 it was ready for Strength Training! Can sprint flights be far behind?
12/20 “Practicing our grip this morning. She did her first official (small) flutter of her wings last night. Very exciting. I’m glad for a weekend so I can spend more time with her and feed her more often.” Marcail
Marcail (on her Facebook page): I think I’ve got a name for her: Franken Flutter (Franca for short) because I keep thinking, “She’s alive!”
Katy: How did you figure out she’s a female, or did you just decide to make her a “sista?”
Marcail: Our friend Greg told me the females have thicker veins in their wings. I compared her to pictures online, and her veins are definitely bigger.
The other main differences are the males tend to be slightly larger and they have a black spot (the “androconium,” a scent gland used to attract girl Monarchs) on each hindwing. Can you see them in these comparison pictures?
Female Monarch Photo: Creative Commons
Male Monarch Photo: Creative Commons
Marcail and her mom are both fabric artists. Here’s a collage Marcail put together showing the butterfly wing skirt she made in high school. I think Franca (can you see her?) approves.
Marcail’s butterfly skirt
My interview with Marcail and Franca continues in Part 2, along withsome unusual, funMonarch facts. I‘m off to make aMonarch paper airplane. (see update below)
Monarch rescue resource sites
I haven’t cross-checked all the information on the sites I visited for this series. I suggest looking at more than one site, particularly ones backed by universities and researchers studying butterflies. A serious Monarch health issue is linked to the increased use of “tropical milkweed.” For now, don’t plant it or spread the seeds, only use plants native to your area. If you already have it, consider replacing with natives or cut it back in the fall.
Wing repair ~ Live Monarch HospitalMarcail used info on this site to keep her butterfly’s legs from sticking together when it got carried away in its food dish.
Feeding~ Butterfly Rescue InternationalButterflies smell with their antennae and taste with special receptors, called tarsi, on the bottoms of their feet (who knew?).
12/25 – Christmas flutters! Marcail(on her Facebook page): Here’s a video of Franca doing some pretty rapid wing flutters. Of course right after I take this she does one 10x more impressive. I was telling some friends tonight about her personality, how she’s not much of a morning girl and I’ll be like, “hurry up and eat so I can go to work!” But she just farts around with her food like she’s not hungry.
I don’t know for sure, but this looks like the kind of wing “shivers” butterflies do to warm up.
Update: My Monarch paper airplane. Flew pretty well, considering I accidentally tore off what would be the short tail. Helps to follow the instructions.
UPDATE: Finished the airplane. Printed on both sides of the paper. It didn’t quite match up, but worked okay. I accidentally tore off the short tail the instructions say to leave. Flew pretty well anyway, but I’ll try again with the tail intact.
Example of cold-stunned sea turtles photo by permission: Matthew Godfrey North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Winter water temperatures at Cape Cod and along the Eastern seaboard are known to catch a few “dawdling” sea turtle youngsters off guard each year. If they fail to beat flippers toward Florida soon enough, the consequences can be dire. It’s called “cold stunning,” and since mid-November, 1200 sea turtles, mostly Kemp’s ridleys, have washed ashore (“stranded”) along the beaches of Cape Cod Bay. Valiant efforts of professionals and scores of volunteers have saved most, but three hundred have died or were found dead.
Sea turtles are reptiles, so when the water cools below their ability to adapt, they become the equivalent of floating ice cubes. It’s no joke, though. Their vital systems drop so low they can’t eat, swim, avoid predators, or fight off infections, like pneumonia.
As reported in today’s New York Times, “the usual trickle (of cold-stunned turtles) has turned into a flood.” According to ClicktoHouston.com, fifty Kemp’s ridleys were transported to Galveston’s Sea Turtle Hospital for treatment. Some went on to the Houston Zoo.
By 2010, decades of conservation efforts had increased Kemp’s ridley nests to the highest level since 1985. I visited Padre Island National Seashore that year to watch the first hatchling scramble to the sea after the Gulf oil spill. Sadly, nesting success rates for the Kemp’s ridley have declined since. Every turtle saved now resets the clock, shifting this smallest and most endangered of sea turtles again onto the path away from extinction. We can all help.
Kemp’s ridley hatchlings-Padre Island National Seashore June 2010 Photo: Katy Pye
The Massachusetts Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuaryis working around the clock and the sheer number of rescued turtles has stretched resources big time. If you want to donate supplies or funds, that would be terrific. If you also pass this call through your social networking–and in-person–pipelines, so others can help, you are one, fabulous turtle angel!
Interconnected seas form our parent ocean — to my mind, the most critically endangered species on the planet. We are undeniably linked: biologically (from whence we came), for sustenance (food, water, air), and emotionally (see “Blue Mind”-Wallace J. Nichols). We all know our parent is in trouble. What we do on land, and in the air and water can help or hurt. I’m always looking for ideas.
over-fishing ~ MarineBio.org-“…a solvable problem.” World Wildlife Fund“More than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits.”
ocean pollution~ National Geographic and NOAA (“Eighty percent of pollution to the marine environment comes from the land.” I include plastics as a form of “run-off.”)
the atmosphere ~If you click on only one thing in this post, choose this one. iMatter: Young people are taking governments to court in a fight to protect the atmosphere. These powerful, passionate, and eloquent kids are using society’s highest tools to force the top game-changers to uphold and act under the law. Their stories and presence touch, educate, and empower. Expect goosebumps, smiles, maybe a touch of “parental” pride.
After rain Point Cabrillo Lightstation Historic State Park Photo: Katy Pye All rights reserved
We’re in this together. Feel free to share your favorite “primal parent” links, suggestions, and stories in the comments.
Thanks for stopping by, peace, and do what you can.
Nesting Kemp’s ridley Photo: Adrienne McCracken
P.S. It’s sea turtle nesting season in many places and all 7 species are threatened or endangered. To avoid extinction, they need to up their reproduction rates. Please report any turtles or nests you find to appropriate local groups. Seaturtle.org lists 228+/- sea turtle groups in 63 countries. Follow local requirements or best practices, such as turning off outside lights at night. Don’t interfere with, or distract adults or hatchlings. Know how your fish and seafood is caught and whether laws to protect sea turtles from drowning in shrimping nets are being followed. Louisiana defiantly refuses to enforce federal fishing laws that protect sea turtles during shrimp trawling.
Four years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster it’s hard to find irrefutable good news. Billions of dollars and countless numbers of scientists and project staff are focused on understanding and fixing the large and lingering damage. Predictions about the future are cautious to non-existent. What’s clear is the Gulf and the creatures that depend on it are still struggling.
Food, habitat, next generations
While tourists and locals in a news video shot in New Orleans said they had no health qualms about eating Gulf seafood, an oil industry worker/sports fisherman ina Fox News clipbemoaned the disappearance of red fish in his home waters. In a Reuter’s piece last week, Jules Melancon, “the last remaining oyster fisherman on Grand Isle,” says all his leased oyster beds are barren. Seven fishing grounds off the Louisiana coast remain closed.
CatIsland in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, once a teeming pelican rookery, is devoid of stabilizing vegetation. It’s wasting away. The oil/dispersant mix that soaked into the soil poisoned mangroves and all the other plants. The muck is still there, destroying any chance new vegetation will secure a toe-hold. Restoration has begun in some areas hit by the spill, but it’s expensive and slow-going.
U.S. Navy submersible, “ALVIN” used by the research team this month. Creative Commons photo
Where nothing survived four years ago, this week she saw eels, skates, and a vampire squid. Conclusion: recovery is happening. However the sea floor is covered in an inches-thick oiled layer. The long-term effects are unknown, and while heartened she cautioned not to extrapolate the positive signs across the entire area affected by the original spill.
Human health studies
The National Institute of Health (NIH) is in the early stages of its 10-year study on the human health impacts to those who lived in the area and worked on clean-up. It may be years, maybe never, before the true health effects of the spill are known. Many of the sick, lacking health insurance, can only wait and hope their claims survive the complicated bundle of paperwork and court battles between the government and BP.
Environmental monitoring group, Gulf Restoration Network, reports oil is still appearing on Louisiana’s Grand Isle beaches. They collected “thousands of tar balls” there April 9th, 2014. BP denies they are from the Macondo well, saying the tar balls are no threat to human health. (Reuters)
BP has spent tens of billions of dollars in fines, clean-up, and compensation. That figure has almost doubled in court fights, the company attempting to overturn or delay payments.Locally, rifts have developed between claimants who have received settlements and those denied or still waiting. Lawyers have claimed a lion’s share.
A failure to improve
In the meantime, BP has successfully bid on 24 blocks offered for lease in the Gulf of Mexico. These are the company’s first new U.S. offshore leases in two years, which include government approval for deep-water drilling.
Creative commons photo
According to a disturbingNew York Times OpEd article (4/17/2014)nothing has changed in terms of engineering refinements on any deep water operations. The Obama Administration “…still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes.Making matters worse, the administration proposes to expand off-shore drilling in the Atlantic and allow seismic activities harmful to ocean life in the search for new oil reserves.” (Liz Birnbaum, former head of the Minerals Management Service, industry regulatory agency at the time of the Macondo blow-out and Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at Oceana.)
New leases for deepwater drilling are handed out to companies every year, yet improved regulations and design requirements on blow-out preventers promised four years ago remain non-existent. “The N.A.E. (National Academy of Engineering) report warned that a blowout in deep water may not be controllable with current technology,” the N.Y.Times piece concluded.
Business as usual.
OKAY, TODAY’S GOOD NEWS!
I was at a low ebb this afternoon after researching articles for this post, when in came an e-mail from Adrienne McCracken. She’s the Field Operations Manager for Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno Beach, Florida. Adrienne’s Kemp’s ridley hatchling is the eye-catching baby turtle on the cover of my novel, Elizabeth’s Landing.
Leatherback sea turtle crawl track, Juno Beach FL 4/20/2014. Photo by Adrienne McCracken, Loggerhead Marine Life Center.
She said, “Happy Easter! We had our own version of an egg hunt this morning with a leatherback and a loggerhead nest…”Whoo-hoo! Life goes on, and as Maria the biologist in the book tells Elizabeth, “It’s a one-turtle-at-a-time job.” This morning Adrienne and her group enjoyed two, with hope for 200+/- hatchlings in a few months. Thank you Loggerhead Marinelife Center, and all sea turtle conservation groups for being on the beaches year-round.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center Field Technician, Shelby, flagging a Loggerhead nest 4/20/2014. Photo by Sarah Hirsch
The second piece of good news, at least for me, came yesterday from the Nautilus Book Awards. Elizabeth’s Landing earned a 2014 SILVER award for Young Adult Fiction.Last year, Nautilus GOLD and SILVER award winners included three authors I love: Barbara Kingsolver for Flight Behavior, Louise Erdrich for The Round House, and Brene’ Brown for Daring Greatly. In April, Elizabeth’s Landing was awarded FIRST PLACE in Fiction in Writer’s Digest’s 2013“Self-published e-book Awards.” I am deeply honored by both awards and hope they help bring more attention to the desperate plight of all sea turtles.
It’s spring, and with it comes new energy and possibility. Bloom where you can.
Six copies of Elizabeth’s Landing rolled out of our post office last week headed to the city of Progreso in the State of Yucatan, Mexico. Cultural and educational exchange–I can’t think of a better way to start 2014.
Elizabeth’s Landing boxed and ready (don’t worry, it went with the full address).
My husband supports a low-cost and extremely well-run program called the Progreso Apoyo Program (PAP).Each year (based on donation levels) it provides school-required supplies and uniforms to over 90 of the city’s poor, yet high-achieving students (grades 7-12). A separate grant program, Career Advancement Program of Progresso (CAPP)moves those who qualify on to and through college. Together, and student by student, these projects help weaken the cycle of poverty in Progreso.
Program director, Kitty Morgan, was delighted when we offered to donate the books. Kids begin learning English in 7th grade, she said, so the majority of the books will go to city schools and libraries. I was also happy for a chance to learn more about sea turtles living and nesting along the Yucatan.
Progresso, a major port with the longest pier in the world–4 miles.
Mexico’s Caribbean beaches are prime nesting habitat to most of the world’s eight sea turtle species, including the Kemp’s ridleys featured in Elizabeth’s Landing. While ridleys rarely nest along the Yucatan Peninsula, its beaches are important for hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles.
Protecting sea turtles and nesting sites in the Yucatan is big, particularly in the State of Quintana Roo along the “Riveria Maya” (Cancun to Tulum). Large tracts of beaches and inland wild areas are national parks, both in Quanta Roo and the State of Yucatan. Some are remote and not easily accessible. Others along the Riviera Maya face damaging impacts from exploding tourism.
Thanks to the work of organizations like Flora, Fauna, and Culture of Mexico, CEA (Centro Ecologico Akumal), andSEE Turtles, local groups educate kids, adults, businesses, and tourists about sea turtles and their environments. Every December Flora, Fauna, and Culture of Mexico and The Travel Foundation present the “Amigos de la Tortuga” awards to hotels that incorporate and champion turtle-friendly behaviors and programs within their businesses.
Successes Face Difficult Future
Despite these ongoing efforts, high tourism areas face serious problems not just for the turtles, but residents, too. A summit sponsored by CEA reports that 20 years of national and international study within the Riviera Maya area called Akumal (“place of the turtle” in Mayan), shows it at a “critical moment.” Lack of infrastructure in the face of increasing/uncontrolled tourism* is seriously degrading natural and marine ecosystems. Since 2008 “50% of the coral and 40% of the seagrass have died, and fish populations have declined by 60%.” Akumal’s community and economy “depend on the delicate balance and functionality of this ecosystem. *(tourism has grown significantly in the State of Quintana Roo in the last ten years. In 2005 there were 61,335 hotel rooms. In 2012 there were 85,141. New housing and business markets also boomed, all using resources and producing waste).
Different state, different priorities
The State of the Yucatan and beaches in the city of Progreso have a history of nesting sea turtles, too. Tourism is part of everyday life here, but the situation is very different.
“When I first visited here in 1999,” Kitty says, “high school students patrolled the beaches, marking turtle nests and handing out literature to people, living right on the beach, about what do do (and not do) if they found a nest. I was thrilled that turtles were nesting here — right in my own back yard! But no more as there are now street lights along the beach which confuse and deter the turtles (ME: beach furniture and sea walls are barriers and may not allow turtles to crawl to safe nesting spots above the high tide line, or hatchlings to reach the water).
Progreso beachfront. Wikimedia Create Commons
The few stoic creatures who do manage to nest only provide a nice meal for the 3,000+/- feral dogs in the area. Progreso’s local government cannot deal with its street dog problem. There is no dog catcher, no pound, no shelter; the dogs simply breed and suffer by the hundreds.”
Twelve years ago, Kitty helped found the only “duly registered” humane society in Progreso in hopes of educating people about the problem. This March, thanks primarily to donations from ex-pats living in Progreso, they will open a small clinic.
The other good news is, Kitty’s Apoyo Program sponsored a young woman who is now studying aquaculture. She will go on to college, maybe become another advocate for the region’s sea turtles. She’s definitely getting a copy of the book.
When I began writing Elizabeth’s Landing almost seven years ago I didn’t know whether it would see the light of day, ever be read by anyone but me, family, and a few close friends. To my great surprise, like the writing process itself, the book has become a bridge into foreign and exciting territory.
Kitty Morgan’s PAP and CAPP programs:
…are always looking for new partner donors to sponsor the children. Every cent goes to filling their school needs (books, pencils, paper, uniforms, etc.). We are constantly amazed how far she spreads the money. She does all the shopping, absorbs all administration costs, and provides each donor with basic information about his/her sponsored child. Every year my husband receives a photo and a thank you letter (translated by Kitty, if necessary) from his student, thanking him for his support and relating school progress, interests, and future plans. Kitty sends a detailed expense report on each child.
If you are interested in making a simple donation or becoming a sponsor in either education program, e-mail Kitty at email@example.com. Be sure to put PAP or CAPP as the “Subject.” She will respond with more specific information on the program(s).
If you would like to support the animal clinic, mail checks or money orders (US or Canadian), payable to Protección de Perros y Gatos a.c. Apartado Postal No. 30, Progreso 97320 Yucatán, México. Any amount is appreciated, but donations of $100 US (or equivalent) puts your name, or that of a beloved pet, on a prominently displayed plaque in the clinic’s waiting room. Help a dog–save a turtle?
Traveling to the Yucatan?
Consider supporting certified eco-friendly hotels, restaurants, and tours. There are also a number of fine “volunteer tours” where you can work directly with sea turtle conservation programs.
Green sea turtle feeding. Creative Commons-Wiki
If you encounter sea turtles while swimming, enjoy them, but keep your distance. Conservation biologists note increasingly green sea turtles avoid traditional underwater grass feeding grounds where there are too many people or people too close.
Info and links to the Riviera Maya sea turtle conservation groups:
Flora, Fauna, and Culture’s, Sea Turtle Conservation Riviera Maya Tulum Program(Facebook)“…one of the oldest and largest in Mexico. It protects nesting turtles, their nests and hatchlings in 13 of the most important nesting beaches of this coast (Punta Venado, Paamul, Aventuras-DIF Chemuyil Xcacel-Xcacelit or, Xel-Ha, Punta Cadena, Tankah, Kanzul, Cahpechén, Lilies Balandrín, Yu-yum and San Juan) and many beaches located in protected areas, such as the Sea Turtle Sanctuary Xcacel-Xcacelito Park National Tulum and Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an. This means protection and monitoring of 38.5 km. beaches, in an area of over 120 km., and our base camp on the Xcacel. We annually protect an average of 6,500 nests and free an average of 500,000 baby sea turtles.”
CEACentro Ecologico Akumal: “Established in July of 1993, CEA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the ecologically sustainable development of the Cancun-Tulum corridor. CEA promotes conservation of the natural habitat and native culture through research and education.” Facebook
SEE Turtles:“…is working to protect endangered sea turtles by growing the market for conservation travel to support small conservation programs around the world. SEE Turtles also connects volunteers to conservation projects and educates students both in the US and near key turtle nesting sites around Latin America.“
Pyewacky Press will donate–
1 copy of Elizabeth’s Landing to any U.S. sea turtle conservation group’s library or store, also 1 (English language) copy to 10, non-U.S. groups. Representatives can use the Contact Me page to make a request.
Normally, internationally respected and prolific authors like Catherine Ryan Hyde have neither time, nor need to reach out to a debut, indie author like me. I’m oh so grateful Catherine doesn’t believe in “the norm” — in anything.
Catherine was my workshop leader two years ago at the Big Sur Writing Workshop. She mentored five of us for two days, lending encouragement, manuscript tweaks, and bits of industry insider advice. When I wrote to tell her I’d published Elizabeth’s Landing, she proposed an interview for her blog series, “Better Than Blurbs.” The offer meant visibility to her world of devoted readers. Yep, plug in all the clichés about head, clouds, and dancing on air. Add a teeny jolt of terror.
Perhaps unintentionally, the interview questions made me look deeper at the book’s meaning, at how key moments in my life led me to and through the writing, and how the story resolution mirrors (or does it?) today’s political reality. The perfect “debriefing” for my six-year effort. And an amazing gift.
Learn more about Catherine‘s dozens of inspiring books, a life full of writing, hiking, photography, and her often amusing, always loving animal companions, Ella and Jordan. The “Pay It Forward” movement is growing around the world. Catherine’s Pay It Forward version for young readers is scheduled to reach booksellers August 19th. It is also available for pre-order online.
PAY IT BACK
DISCOUNTS ON ELIZABETH’S LANDING (Dec. 2 to midnight Dec. 15)
A portion of book sale profits this year go to sea turtle conservation organizations whose staff shared time and expertise with me as I developed Elizabeth’s Landing.
Paperback: CreateSpace e-store (gives highest author profits = more for sea turtles). Use this discount code B9GBX97Y at check-out for 40% off the list price.
Independent bookstore: The paperback is not directly discounted, but our beloved Gallery Bookshop is offering $.99 shipping (media mail) through December 31, 2013 on all books in-stock. Any out-of-stock books are shipped free when they are restocked. (707) 937-2665. Order the Kobo version through Galleryat the same discount as the Kobo online store.
Watch this beautiful video of Lula by filmmaker, Boombaye
The Ancient Past
Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtle species (up to 6 ft long, 2000 lbs), arguably not the prettiest, but certainly the deepest divers. While not as old as sharks at 320 million years (here even before trees), leatherbacks, like all sea turtle species, are ancient creatures–over 100 million years on the planet.
Archelon skeleton, an ancient sea turtle, 80.5 million years old. Photo Wikipedia, from the Peabody Museum at Yale.
The ancient Archelon above, believed to be a direct ancestor to the leatherback, was swimming the oceans in what is now South Dakota.
Fast forward–skidding toward the cliff?
Here we sit 100 million years later, staring into the barrel of extinction for the glorious, ponderous Pacific leatherback. Important Western Pacific nesting sites have dropped 78% in 30 years. Higher global temps warm nesting sands, leading to male-only hatches.
Leatherback sea turtle Photo: Ryan Somma, Creative Commons
Recognizing the Pacific leatherback’s peril and the importance of jellyfish feeding grounds off the Golden State (a stunning 7,000-mile migration), legislators placed restrictions on fishing practices and created fishing exclusion zones along the California coast. Oregon and Washington adopted similar restrictions in an effort to protect and extend loggerhead migration and feeding territory. In 2012, California designated the Pacific leatherback our State Marine Mammal. The annual celebration day, October 15th, is a chance to remember they’re here, but more importantly to recognize their escalating decline and double down on conservation efforts. Nothing short of rapier-sharp vigilance, hard work, and strong education efforts will ensure the Pacific loggerheads’ future.
Let’s start with the fun (subtext: cheerful education leads to action).
Leatherback hatchling Photograph: Scott Benson NOAA
3) Collect and cut out the plastic! Plastic and beach debris collection is paramount to keeping litter out of the mouths and guts of sea turtles (leatherbacks are particularly prone to eating any plastic, including balloons, that looks like a jellyfish). Beach debris can block hatchlings from reaching the ocean and make them more vulnerable to predators.
A challenge: try going without plastic for 1 week. track how much and what plastic you avoided using or buying. Post what you learned here, your own blog, Facebook, etc. What can you turn into permanent changes to your plastic use? My Plastic Free Life is an encouraging and practical blog (and book) to make the shift a whole lot easier. Here are two products I’ve adopted. Eliminated plastic shampoo and cream rinse bottles and plastic floss container. Love both products.
Almost plastic free. Floss roll is in a paper box, but uses a little plastic bag inside to keep the mint oil fresher, longer. Unflavored floss and non-plastic toothbrush next on the list.
How about turtle cupcakes to give out in class with a note asking people to reduce plastic use and to learn about sea turtles. Give them a link or three to your favorite leatherback websites, photos, or articles.
6) Donate. Leatherback sea turtles, like every endangered species, hugely depend on us human beings stepping up to solve problems driving them to extinction. Species celebration days are reminders of our part and our responsibilities.
Re-post this blog or find others. Then reach deeper and farther. If petitions cross your social media or e-mail, ones asking governments to enforce turtle protection laws, please read and consider signing because…
Threats to leatherbacks (and many other sea turtles) continue to grow:
Egg and turtle predation: by humans and animals. Poaching (with increasing links to drug use and trafficking) in third-world countries tops the list of species decline. Quasi-legal egg collection is sometimes part of agreements between locals and turtle conservationists who share the eggs for mutual benefit (80%/20% for example in Guatamala). One group for livelihood and food. The other for hatch and release.
leatherback caught in long-line fishing gear. Goes from being a turtle to being “by-catch” of the fishing industry. This turtle was cut free and returned to life as a turtle. Photo by Philip Miller Creative Commons via Seaturtle.org
Beach development: Increased erosion and night lights disorient hatchlings who head toward the brightest light, their guide to the horizon and water. They end up in someone’s patio or mired in dune grass instead.
Sea Turtles Forever has “established a Sea Turtle Hotline for people to report sea turtle sightings in the Northeastern Pacific foraging areas. Please call 1-503-739-1446or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to report a sea turtle sighting in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean or on any Canadian, Washington, Oregon or California Beaches.”
Activist, author, and $1,000 Kohl’s Cares Scholarship winner, Cameron (Amie) Koporc has done more for sea turtles than most people think of doing in half a lifetime. Now she’s started a petition at Change.org to get legislators to make Georgia the 7th state to protect wildlife and reduce pollution by outlawing mass balloon releases.
Balloons and ribbons–beautiful killers.
A former resident of Florida, now living in the Atlanta Georgia suburb of Roswell, Amie’s learned a lot about sea turtles since her family adopted a sea turtle nest in her name as a 7th birthday present. She recently told the Roswell Neighbor news journal, “When I grow up I want to work in a rescue center for ocean animals. I just hope it isn’t too late by then.” So do I, but she’s working hard to make sure turtles and other animals remain part of the planet’s ecosystems forever.
This Blaire Wirthington photo on my website page Threats to Sea Turtles illustrates what can happen when a balloon ends up at sea. This little Kemp’s ridley was lucky someone spotted him. The ribbon or string can be as deadly as the balloons.
Ribbon trail of the balloon swallowed by a Kemp’s ridley juvenile off the Sarasota, FL coast. Photo: Blair Wirthington photo, Blair Witherington (http://myd.as/p6429)
While Amie’s petition is directed at influencing Georgia politicians, sea turtles, birds, and people everywhere are impacted by balloon trash. All states should get the message, so each one added works to tip permanent change in the right direction. As of this writing, Amie has upped her signature goal to 2500 and is 408 signatures shy. Help by adding yours.
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