Sea Turtles die as world ‘experts’ sit back do next to nothing (pt 2/2 hot sand)
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
By Staci-lee Sherwood
Sea Turtles have been around for about 100 million years but their prospects for another 100 million years look dim. In fact sea turtles might go the way of the dinosaurs before the end of this century if things don’t turn around soon. Three major factors have caused a drastic decline in their global population; light pollution and coastal development, plastic pollution and hot sand that only produce females. Any one of these could cause extinction but to overcome all three would be a monumental miracle. Considering how slow humans are to accept change until it affects them the stats are not in their favor.
They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We don’t even have the façade of good intentions for the most part it’s just lip service. If these are the experts paid to save this species they won’t survive. In Florida we have the state agency paid to protect them and all other wildlife that is the greatest threat to their survival. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) has a hostile policy regarding sea turtle conservation. Don’t believe the PR spin and skewed numbers released to the press. Reporters don’t bother to question anything, confront the staffers or dig for the truth. This also affects the global numbers because when one study has falsified data everything related to that is also in question for legitimacy, like fruit of the poisonous tree.
As far back as 2010 the state began observing an increase in beaches that only produced females. Over the years this problem has increased. Despite studies being done documenting the alarmingly high rates and skewed sex ratios, nothing has been done to mitigate the crisis.
The road to extinction takes many turns. Many will be surprised that so called nonprofits like Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is one of the biggest obstacles to saving them. In the 1950s ecologist Archie Carr knew Green Sea Turtles were in trouble. His work inspired Joshua Powers to found this group, originally called Caribbean Conservation Corporation. Their reputation as the world’s oldest sea turtle organization has brought them millions in donations. I started my field work with sea turtles in 2008 and know firsthand their lack of help.
Sex ratio between male and female of any species is never 50 - 50. It’s impossible to truly know what the ratio is for sea turtles but like most species has a higher ratio of females than males. Some studies done in Florida have suggested the sex ratio might be have been in the neighborhood of 80% females to 20% males for several years already. No one can say with proof what a healthy ratio is but it’s not 80/20 and probably more like 60/40.
When the delicate balance nature provides is disrupted by humans that ripple effect can crash a species, even if not immediately seen. Long before the last animal perishes extinction is already taking place. Loss of habitat, food and viable mates take their toll as the species slowly succumbs to the inevitable. It seems by all accounts this is the fate of sea turtles.
"Without a massive immediate global response of action; not more studies, committees or research but real action, sea turtles will become like the dinosaurs and we will all be to blame for that."
A study from 2019
A green sea turtle hatching in the morning, they’re designed to hatch at night when the sand, water and air are cool. If the sand is too hot the hatchling will die moments after crawling on it. In 2016 they were delisted from Endangered to Threatened meaning they lost their best legal protection. This was done only so Florida would look like they’re protecting them and failed to consider the facts they more than qualified to have stayed listed as endangered. The massive death toll of light pollution and plastic was not taken into consideration.
Highland Beach, FL unhatched eggs most likely boiled from hot sand. 2012
These are hatchlings that came out in daytime, hit the hot sand and died a few feet from the nest. As far back as 2009 I saw this. It wasn’t common and at least 1 or 2 nests had an ending like this. Sometimes it was only a few hatchlings, other times an entire nest would be lost. Usually the hatchlings would die just inches from the nest chamber but on occasion some would die as they tried to make their way to the ocean. Tracks would go from the nest down to where the hatchling just couldn’t make it and died right there just a couple of feet from the ocean.
Dead hatchlings 2010
What the ‘experts’ have to say
I reached out to over 20 people representing government agencies, nonprofits and universities, less than half bothered to respond. Their answers were eerily similar to each other. They vacillated between the ‘it’s not a crisis yet let’s wait another 10, 20 or 30 years before we do anything’ to the ‘it’s too complicated to fix’ drumbeat. Every time there is a big problem no one wants to deal with these tired excuses are rehashed for public consumption. Where have we heard this before? We know the wait and see policy is a ploy for the lazy, the corrupt and the ignorant to use as a defense against the inquiring public demanding action.
In 2018 the Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Network held their annual meeting in South Carolina. The theme was “Swimming on a Changing Tide” that was to highlight the latest group of scientists who “are leading the way with new and novel approaches to solving problems and answering tough questions.” That was 4 years ago and no new or novel approaches regarding light pollution or sand temperature have been implemented. Perhaps they will think about that in another 4 years. , “Swimming on a Changing Tide” was the meeting’s theme. A new generation of conservationists and
An article from 2017 about rising sand temperature in Florida quoted Jeanette Wyneken, a biologist at Florida Atlantic University “We’re seeing more dead eggs. And when we do get turtles hatching, they’re often heat stressed: They may hatch and crawl to the water, but then die.” But in 2022 she has not supported any measures to be taken to help like shading devices, water sprinklers and indoor hatcheries. Seems what she says to reporters is just lip service. She and her husband, Mike Salmon, both work at FAU and are members on the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group. They could influence many positive changes but have done nothing other than collect salaries for doing studies. In 2018 Wyneken talks about the importance of moisture to cool the sand temperature https://www.fau.edu/newsdesk/articles/sex-ratio-turtle.php
In a 2022 email to me she said “At this time, we have no evidence of large proportions of infertile eggs. Clearly, if male production remains as a problem, then techniques already exist to adjust nest temperatures in the field with sprinklers and shaded outdoor hatcheries.“ She goes on to say “The high temperatures and dry conditions are a fundamental threat to far more than sea turtles. Too warm to make males is leading to too warm for embryos to hatch.“ Wyneken starts off with a claim ‘no evidence of infertile eggs’ and ends with how hot sand causes embryos to not hatch….meaning eggs aren’t hatching period, what difference does it make if fertilized? None, it’s the same net affect.
The notion that shading devices would help cool the sand is ludicrous. Whatever device used would not be effective enough and the beachfront homeowners would likely throw a tantrum over what they would call eyesores. These people think they own the beach and throw a fit at the sight of wooden nest marking stakes. Some even remove the stakes on purpose. Sprinklers would have to be set to turn off during rain. Drowning a nest has happened before from sprinklers so that is NOT a viable answer either nor would it ever happen. I know of several nests that were drowned so this is not truly a suitable option.
The FWC is well aware of this. There was never any suggestion of putting up shading devices or watering systems. There was talk, a study was done and that was it. This has been documented around the state at least since 2009, this is now 2022.
In 2015 this study ‘Sand temperatures for nesting sea turtles in the Caribbean: Implications for hatchling sex ratios in the face of climate change’ found that “management strategies to artificially lower incubation temperatures by shading nests or relocating nest clutches to deeper depths may be the only way to prevent the localised extinction of these turtle populations.” So they are willing to relocate nests but not in a logical way that actually saves the species. Click here to read more from 2015
In 2022 still no action just more talk
Click video below for a news story about the hot sand in Florida from Sept 2022
Sea turtle expert from Save our Seas in the Seychelles and courtesy faculty with University of Florida, Dr. Jeanne A. Mortimer, Ph.D said “The situation in Florida is particularly bad in terms of temperature.” She said sex ratio favors females and that about 20% males is fine, that assumes all males produced are healthy and fertile and that just isn’t true when they live in such polluted water.“So, if management eventually decides it is necessary to produce more males on the Florida beaches (assuming that enough males are not being produced in Georgia and South Carolina) your idea to artificially incubate (at a cooler temperature) a percentage of the egg clutches laid is not without merit.“
She went on to say the same tired excuse of not supporting indoor hatcheries and “instead I think it would make more sense to incubate egg clutches in outdoor hatcheries with enough shade cover to lower the incubation temperature enough to produce 100% males in those clutches.” If you know anything about Florida coastal residents these supposed shade and sprinkler devices will never ever be used. The dunes that provide some shade have no protection either. Furthermore the Florida Dept of Environmental Protection (FDEP) knocked down a dune in 2012 in Ft Lauderdale in the wee hours of the morning so a condo at The Mayan Beach Club could see the ocean despite this being where endangered Green sea turtles nested. There was a lawsuit I was part of (I might still have the official statement I gave to the judge at the hearing to prevent this).
In 2012 I did a Facebook post about FDEP cutting down the Sea Grapes which provided the shade and protection from light pollution all these experts allude to. So where do all these experts think the shade will come from when the state actively destroys the beach? Mortimer went on to say that outdoor hatcheries “will not prevent disturbance from artificial lighting for a couple reasons” which is exactly my point that indoor hatcheries would truly help solve both the light pollution and hot sand problems. Has no one gotten that memo because it’s blatantly obvious it’s all a ruse. It’s like these ‘experts’ can only give approved answers that don’t address any real issues.
Here’s my 2012 post about the sea grape removal
From an article in August 2022 "Sea turtles emerging from hotter nests are suffering from dehydration, inflammation, and possibly infections, they also have decreases in important protective blood proteins.” shows preliminary research on leatherback hatchlings by Sam Kuschke, Upwell Turtles Laboratory Veterinarian, Research Associate at FAU Marine Lab’s Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Read more about Sam’s research in our latest blog:
In an email from Upwell Turtles, Krisitn Reed said their main focus was the ocean environment with almost the identical talking points as everyone else adding ”But human assistance can improve their odds of survival in the faces of these challenges.” If she thinks Florida will start to enforce laws they have actively fought for decades she must be thinking of another Florida and not the one in the US.
In 2020 Upwell Turtles approached the Conservation Planning Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission to ‘design and facilitate a process to assess the possible value incorporating (head-starting and/or egg translocations) in Mexico and Costa Rica’ to help sea turtles …not in Florida where the majority of Loggerheads nest and a growing number of endangered Greens and Leatherbacks nest. An in-situ nest is one that stays where is was laid and an ex-situ is a nest created by a human (in plain English like a temperature controlled indoor hatchery). Did Florida refuse the needed help because they think it will show how much they are failing?
During a workshop to study ex-situ management for Leatherbacks, a survey showed that most of the expert attendees were concerned about cost of the programs. In Florida that is not a concern because FWC has a budget of half a billion and both FAU and NOVA have nearly a billion in assets so cost can’t really be the issue. Almost half the expert attendees saw no reason to start a program to see if it works as they go, preferring to ‘study’ and wait. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/360093758_Eastern_Pacific_Leatherback_Turtle_Ex_situ_Management_Recommendation_Development_Workshop_Report
In an email from Inwater Research biologist Cody Mott “Increasing sand temperatures are a significant issue for sea turtles eggs on our beaches. The higher temperatures are speeding the development of the embryo in the egg, causing developmental deformities. We have recently encountered lower hatch success in nests, which may be correlated to the higher beach temperatures. Our colleagues at Florida Atlantic University have been studying this issue for decades.” Before Mott worked for Inwater Research he worked for Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton so he knows all about the light pollution, hot sand and polluted water they swim in.
For many years I reached out to many staff in Vero Beach and Washington DC at US Fish & Wildlife. Their responses ranged from vague and false claims to useless. This federal agency yields to the state and couldn’t care less about conservation. Forget their press releases look at their actions. In an email from Karen Frutchey, the SE Sea Turtle Coordinator USFWS & Wildlife Service “There are nests being documented in Florida that may have been affected by heat, but this has been the case since nest monitoring has begun (the excuse for doing nothing), and as I mentioned the diversity of habitats in Florida, keeps this threat for Florida at this time, to one that does not rise quite to the level as lighting (which they do nothing about either), but again FWS is keenly aware of this issue. Take note they have an annual budget of $2,8 billion dollar and their own ‘nonprofit’ with $392 million in assets so there is NO excuse for their lack of action. She closed with “as an agency and a partner with other agencies we are engaged and vigilant in addressing these threats to sea turtles.”
So here is the response from the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group. My truth is in RED. Standard answers with the excuse of doing nothing. The IUCN is utterly useless and if these are the genius brains we’re counting on to save endangered species…..I doubt they have the capacity to save a pet rock they certainly are underwhelming in leadership.
In 2019 a team of scientists on the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatiu saw that incubation temperatures were about 88 degrees resulting in female hatchlings at least 97% of the time. This included leatherback, hawksbill and green sea turtles. They found Palm leaves to be most effective at reducing temperatures. Relocating the eggs to a cooler beach just half a mile away decreased temperatures an average of 3 degrees. Combining the two measures, they found, could shift the hatchling sex ratio down to between 60 and 90 percent female. So simple yet Florida is not doing this despite their self described notion they are leaders of sea turtle conservation, they are a failure in every sense of the word. Click here to read more
All that money but none for Sea Turtles
As if blatant corruption and failure wasn’t enough the FWC has their own ‘non-profit’ with recorded assets of over $34,000,000. Their 2020 tax form 990 shows revenue more than $10.7 million. This is on top of their annual budget of nearly ½ billion. All that money and they still cry with the tired excuse of ‘lack of funds’ whenever any real conservation ideas are proposed. I guess they figure the public won’t bother to look up their budgets, salaries and other perks.
When FWC cries they don’t have money remember this. Their budget for FY 2022 - 2023 is $433,000,000. Thanks to taxpayers nearly half a billion spent on what???
How is this legal? It’s certainly questionable
More about the corruption and lies of FWC will be covered in another article since they have a long sordid history with many problems.
Indoor temperature controlled hatcheries is the best answer to light pollution and hot sand. The cooler temperature would start producing the much need males. Light pollution would no longer cause the death of millions of hatchlings since they would be hatching inside and released at night under supervision. As for coastal development, only an immediate end to development would do that. Every morning freshly laid nests would be gently dug up by trained staff and placed in buckets where they would stay until hatching. Aside from the initial relocation very little maintenance is required.
All this sounds complicated but can be done, if there is political will. You see the money is there and the state has a population of 20 million and can certainly find enough people in a country of 300 million. A room of 20 x 20 can hold several rows of buckets perhaps equaling a hundred bucket nests. Once hatched the hatchlings would be released on the beach at night.
I’ve been trained to relocate nests so I know anyone can be trained. So many people would welcome the opportunity to actually do something beneficial. NOVA University in Broward county, as policy, relocated about 80% of nests for years simply to avoid enforcing the lighting laws, that’s about 3000 nests annually. We (S.T.O..P) got them to stop relocating hoping they would help enforce the laws, that never happened. Ask yourself why all these ‘sea turtle experts’ fight the only thing that would save the species? There’s always more to the story….
This 5 gallon bucket from Lowe’s can hold an entire sea turtle nest
Lip serviceLipg’s theme. A new generation of conservationists and
The people listed below are the major players in Florida. The only reason they make false unsubstantiated statements about enforcing lighting laws and sand temperature not being an urgent crisis, is to protect their jobs. They are doing the bare minimum to appear as though they’re doing something for sea turtles when in reality they are working against them. This is why factual data is never released to the public. This is why the thousands of forms sent yearly showing all the dead hatchlings from light pollution are never revealed or mentioned publicly.
The state and the nonprofits that partner with them have a vested interest in keeping the public ignorant and misinformed. The priority of the Governor, all governors, and state legislature is bending over for the businesses and rich homeowners who would throw a fit if they had to change a light bulb. You know what they call people who will do anything for money right?
They have all known about light pollution their entire careers, known about sand temperature at least 10 years. Sea turtles hit breeding age at about 20 or so, therefore in 10 years all these people will probably (hopefully) be out of the sea turtle business and no longer have a job to protect. Their lack of action is merely to get them to retirement before the population really crashes and they are no longer around to blame. They will pat themselves on the back and pretend they did something good. Deep down they know they’re frauds and caused all this suffering. Remember their names:
Robbin Trindell, FWC Sea Turtle program Admin. had the agency remove permits in 2020 for the night rescue groups with the lie they hindered nesting females. Their claim was the few rescue volunteers on the beach prevented turtles from digging a nest and dropping their eggs. The public would believe this but I proved she lied during my interview with ABC News. I had data from Highland Beach and the rest of the state showing how false crawls are often higher than finished nests on beaches where there are no rescue groups. In Highland Beach the false crawls are almost as high as nests and there is little to no human activity on the beach at night. This proves FWC lies. Neither FWC staff nor Trindell responded to questions by ABC reporter Julia Jacoby about the skewed data and false claims
Meghan Koperski, FWC biologist in charge of permits. She does not rescue hatchlings, has made false claims about disorientation rates and does nothing to enforce laws. She refused to issue permits to trained volunteers in Dade County with wild claims night rescue groups weren’t needed. She did renew the permits for Doug Young of Audubon South Florida Chapter in Ft Lauderdale despite his involvement with a shooting he caused on the beach in 2015 which made international news. Conservation does not guide her decisions.
David Godfrey, CEO of nonprofit Sea Turtle Conservancy seems to focus more on Costa Rica and their Tour de Turtles than their home state. Despite claims of changing the lights on a few hundred buildings in the least populated counties they have done nothing to get FWC to enforce the laws despite their close ties. In an email Godfrey claims there's nothing to worry about if entire beaches only produce females, the usual tepid reply of 'we don't know enough' and how there probably are enough males but neglects to say where these males are? Is he implying that females would travel half way around the world to mate then travel half way around the world to nest every 2 weeks?
His response to having indoor hatcheries (which other countries use successfully) " STC would not support such an idea. In fact, we would fight against it, as would state and federal agencies charged with endangered species protection/management." So there you have it this nonprofit will fight anything that might save sea turtles. Could not be more plainer than that. I wonder what donations are really used for since it's not hatcheries, or turtle friendly lights.
Jeanette Wyneken Biologist and Professor who has spent years studying sea turtles but has yet to push for any law enforcement or action. She knows what needs to be done but has done nothing to actually save the species she gets paid to study.
"All these so called experts like to talk and receive funding, but when it comes to action that will truly save sea turtles they are Missing In Action."
Newly hatched Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings race toward the ocean
"Scientists are not activists. It’s as if all these scientists are just treading water long enough to stay afloat & collect a salary before sea turtles go extinct. They all seem resigned to their demise."
It’s clear all these experts got the same talking points about sprinklers and shading devices without bothering to see if they are in use. It’s also obvious none of these people has ever dealt with beachfront property owners or they would know none of this is possible. The solution is clear yet they actively fight against it. Why would so many claiming to be working to save sea turtles work so hard at denying the facts and fighting against any real law enforcement and long term solution? Are they really working for sea turtles…..
For an in-depth expose on the lighting issues click here for part 1 https://www.realitycheckswithstacilee.com/post/sea-turtles-die-as-world-experts-sit-back-do-next-to-nothing-pt-1-light-pollution