Exploiting sea turtles in Florida: for many groups it’s just busine$$ as usual
Updated: Sep 24
By Staci-lee Sherwood
When you think of an endangered species you assume, or hope, that its legal status offers full protection under the law. You assume this species will be exempt from being hunted, trafficked, harmed or exploited by man’s greed and stupidity. In 2022 you would be wrong to assume or even hope for that, especially in the state of Florida. We have three species of sea turtles that regularly nest here the Loggerhead, Green and Leatherback. Legal status under the law sounds more important than it is. Technically it implies there is funding to educate the public, oversight from multiple stakeholders and punishment when those responsible for committing a crime are held accountable In today’s world think more in terms of the alternate universe where the logical is no longer applied. The Endangered Species Act is rarely enforced and has become more of a patchwork of enforcement at best.
For eleven years I worked on several state permits for endangered sea turtles in Palm Beach and Broward County. Working two distinct state programs afforded me thousands of hours in the field, something few marine biologists ever get because spending countless hours in the water is not possible. Observations in natural habitat in real time provides invaluable knowledge and can often counter what ‘studies’ have drawn as conclusions from minimal observations. During my field training for the morning survey one of the state requirements was to not release any hatchlings (newborns) into the ocean after sunrise. This protective measure was done for the obvious reason that hatchlings are tiny dark spots clearly visible in daylight and make an easy target for predators. Normally sea turtle nests hatch late at night under the cover of darkness making for a safer journey to the ocean. All marine biologists working with sea turtles have the same training.
Gumbo Limbo. For a trained marine biologist to release an entire nest (as pictured below) late morning with a bright sunny sky is sending these already endangered hatchlings to their almost certain death. This was done at the urging of Jeff Corwin of tv fame. Corwin is a biologist who travels the world hugging and kissing wild animals for the cameras. This is his way of ‘helping to conserve the species’. In reality it’s just for show his only motivation is for the fans who watch his tv show which translates into revenue and makes for a nice salary.
I met Corwin over a decade ago when he traveled to nearby Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach, Fl to be the guest speaker for the annual Walk for the Animals. Back then he seemed more authentic in his motivations. Over the years I’ve watched him and Steve Irwin, also of tv fame, send the wrong message to fans about wildlife. Similar to all the celebrity tiger cub petting photos Corwin’s constant handling of wild animals send the message this is ok behavior. Whatever message he thinks he’s sending his actions is what his audience pays attention to and tries to emulate.
Not surprising over the past ten years there’s been an uptick in wild animals dying for selfies. One has to wonder the connection between shows like theirs and the increase in bad behavior from their audience. Corwin has a net worth over $3 million dollars. A donation to a legitimate non profit, if he can find one, would have been a better idea than the morning release of hatchlings if conservation was the main goal. A donation to install giant well placed billboards telling coastal homeowners and businesses to turn off their lights and stop dumping trash in the ocean would have been a tremendous gesture. That was not done. Huge missed opportunity to do the right thing. Too often once the cameras are turned off so too is the 'conservation'.
Disgraceful display of total disregard for an endangered species that David Anderson of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, is paid to protect. This was done ONLY for the tv shows Entertainment Tonight & Jeff Corwin wildlife show in July 2021
photo credit David Anderson
What is they say about people who do anything for fame and money ? David Anderson who now runs the sea turtle program for Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton and Jeff Corwin of tv fame holding newborn Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings.
photo credit David Anderson
The proper way to do a hatchling release for the genuine conservationist. The comparison is literally night and day. Bravo for having ethics
photo credit USFWS St Padre Island
Sea Turtle Conservancy. This non profit was formed back in 1959 by Archie Carr. Despite being headquartered in Florida their real focus is the Caribbean. Back in July 2021 I sent an article I wrote, which was published by Scubaverse, about the millions of hatchlings killed by light pollution to their CEO David Godfrey. I politely asked for them to reach out to Florida FWC and get this rogue agency to enforce the lighting laws. His response was to block me on facebook instead of acting on behalf of the very species he draws a salary for ‘saving’. This is the antithesis of professional behavior and besmirches the reputation of this organization. Here is the article with updated info; https://www.realitycheckswithstacilee.com/post/florida-s-latest-assault-on-sea-turtles-and-why-the-global-community-should-be-concerned
Here is how it looked when the article was politely sent to David Godfrey
Here is the response just a couple of days later…that is not how you save an endangered species. You just can’t make this type of nonsense up.
If they can’t even have an adult running things what does that say about their programs? For starters they rarely if ever bother to help with the huge light pollution problem along the eastern Florida coast where the bulk of nesting occurs. In all my years working in the field they have been MIA despite their claims otherwise. Whatever grants they gave has had little effect in preventing the death of the millions of hatchlings that die every year from light pollution. With a salary of $149,022 for their CEO and net assets of $3.6 million, according to their 990 tax return for 2019, they have plenty of cash to throw around just not where the real problems exist. Over the years many groups have requested help since they are very cozy with state wildlife agency FWC, so much so they sponsor the annual sea turtle permit holders meeting instead of the state sponsoring it.
Their website claims they’re helping with light pollution. For one rescue group requests going back to 2010 were made every year for both financial and political help with the millions of lights hitting Broward County beaches. Every year this kills tens of thousands of hatchlings just in that county. Finally in 2020 they slowly began to retrofit lights but it shouldn’t take a decade to get help. Whatever lights they have fixed barely makes a dent since death by light pollution seems to be the same percentage. More curious is why they didn’t start with Dade County which loses almost all of their hatchlings to light pollution, and have ignored the rest of Broward County and all of Palm Beach County? They clearly have the millions in assets and political clout to fix the problem if they really wanted to. The bulk of hatchling disorientation from light pollution is the east coast which has never received much help. https://www.guidestar.org/profile/59-6151069
Audubon. What can one say about a group of birders who get the bright idea they can solve the sea turtle light pollution disorientation problem. For starters Doug Young who runs the “rescue” group hasn’t a clue about sea turtles nor has he had any official training with this species. He’s most known for causing a shooting with a drunken homeless man that made national news and was a disgrace. The incident helped cause a rift between the already tense relationship between a legitimate rescue group and the state agency that permits them.
For years both tourists and residents would complain about both the rudeness and incompetence of its volunteers. Their volunteers would rarely come out but when they did they never watched over beaches lacking coverage preferring to go where other rescue groups already were. When they did come out they mostly caused trouble further eroding what little conservation efforts the state had done. Here’s the story about the shooting; https://www.local10.com/news/2015/07/20/man-shot-while-defending-turtle-nest-in-lauderdale-by-the-sea/
The lack of professionalism is astounding putting ego before saving an endangered species most would gladly trade places for the opportunity
Most people prefer to let things go. if someone goes out of their way to inform you of bad and incompetent behavior that is telling. These complaints became routine for all the years this ‘rescue’ was on the beach.
National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation. This non profit was determined after a 3 year audit by the IRS to be more a boat broker than a charity for sea turtles. Low ratings by charity watchdog groups and several audits from the IRS forced them to start giving away the money donated to them. The founder, Frank Wojcik, is a Lauderdale-by-the-Sea boat broker, created the foundation and serves as its executive director. The non profit and his boat company, Four Points Yacht and Ship Brokers, share office space. The controversy came to light when their boat donation program seemed more like fraud where unsuspecting people donated boats thinking the money from the sale would go to help sea turtles.
Records showed maybe 5% went toward programs, most non profits strive to meet 75% of revenue going toward programs. To date no one really knows where the millions of dollars they raked in actually went. More than twenty years ago they made big promises none of which have materialized. While they claim to have been involved with worthy projects their questionable reputation far outweighs any good they’ve done. Read the story here;
Sadly but not surprising this is just the tip of the iceberg. There will be a lot more fraud and incompetence to be exposed. As for the state agency Florida Fish & Wildlife they have openly ignored even condoned all of this and more.
If you are disgusted by this reckless disregard please contact those below an voice your concerns
1. Robbin Trindell admin sea turtle programs for Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Robbin.Trindell@myfwc.com 850.922.4330
Dave Anderson Sea Turtle program @ Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton, Florida 561) 544-8605