It was a leisurely stroll along Juno Beach to see how the first weather bands of tropical storm Isaac was affecting our precious beach. This short stretch of beach has been the site of something extraordinary this year. In just 9.8 miles of beach, from March 1st, 2012 to the present day, there has been 8,715 recorded sea turtle nests. Of these nests, 245 belong to the endangered leatherback sea turtle, 669 nests belong to the endangered green sea turtle and a record breaking 7,801 nests belong to the endangered loggerhead sea turtle.
Throughout the world, sea turtles are facing devastating pressures from humans. Thousands of sea turtles are captured for consumption, they are killed in nets used to capture the fish and shrimp we eat, many are killed by boat propellers, their shells are used for jewelry and sea turtles nests are dug out and the eggs are harvested at an unsustainable rate in some countries.
All seven species of sea turtles are listed in the endangered or threatened species list.
But there is a beacon of hope in the horizon and it is beaches such as Juno Beach that are giving sea turtles a fighting chance. Every little sea turtle that can safely begin its journey across the world’s oceans brings us closer to turning the tide for this endearing marine sea creature.
Things did not look too bad as we walked south along the water’s edge. The sea was certainly tempestuous, but the beach sand and the thousands of sea turtle nests lying underneath were still in good shape. What was distinctively different was what laid a waste on the littoral edge. Plastic bottles, many of which had labels sourcing them back to the island of Cuba and the U.S., littered the sandy shore every couple of foot steps. As we walked along the shore we tossed these bottles higher up on the beach, for we would collect them on our return. A simple 10 minute walk stretched to 30 minutes as we stopped to pick up all the trash along the way.
Glimmering out in the hazy, salt-sprayed distance, a large green mass about eight feet wide captured our attention. We looked at each other in discontent for this was not the object we would ever want to see on this beach. An entangled mess of gill net lay near the water’s edge. We were thankful that this ghost net was on shore and not laying strewn across the reef where it would relentlessly kill any marine life that would get tangled in its deadly web. Such ghost nets kill thousands of animals for many years until the ocean can consume and destroy its synthetic fibers.
The ocean, thankfully, deposited this gill net on our beach shore and the tides had deposited enough sand inside its web that moving this behemoth was impossible for the two of us. We felt the onus was upon us to do something for even laying here it could still pose a danger to the sea turtles that come to nest on the beach or the thousands of baby turtles who would be traveling to the ocean along its path.
We began to dig around the bottom of the gill net, shaking out the sand as more and more net appeared from below. Minutes turned to an hour and our progress was at an urchin’s pace. Our backs and hands ached as the nylon lines of this ghost net cut and tugged at us. Two hours had passed and still we persevered.
On the horizon, north of us, a lonely figure materialized. We paused to see that this person was following our bread crumb trail of plastic. Tossing all the garbage into numerous bags. It was a blessing to our spirits to see someone who passionately cared for this amazing planet and its creatures. Someone who did not turn a blind eye towards the littered shore. Within a few minutes this lovely, middle-aged woman, named Loretta, was at our side helping us in our endeavor. Her spirited energy rejuvenating our own.
It was suggested that we could move quicker if we had a pair of shears and Loretta quickly sprung up and said she would walk back to her home near the beach. Within a few minutes, we would see her running down the beach towards us with a basket filled with numerous objects to help. As we continued to work on the gill net, other people walked by and Loretta was quick to encourage them to help. Before long the gill net was free of its sandy ensnare and its couple hundred pound mass of nylon netting was pulled up the beach to an area where the tides would not bury it again. We would return to begin the arduous task of taking this net apart in manageable pieces and discarding of it properly.
With blistered hands, but an appeased soul, we began our half mile walk back to the entrance of the beach. Picking up any debris we could find along the way. We had not walked a hundred feet from the gill net when we noticed little creatures scurrying towards a stormy sea. A handful of brave baby loggerhead sea turtles had decided to leave the safety of their sandy nest and head to the ocean with still a few minutes of daylight left. The uncertainty of their journey had begun. We cheered the little sea turtles as they made their way towards the ocean. We hoped and prayed they would one day return to this same beach. Perhaps then we would be a wiser steward of their beach and the ocean. We could not have been more delighted by this special gift nature had given us. No good deed goes unrewarded!
As we were tossing away the garbage in recycling bins, a gentleman walked by asking us if we had picked up all that garbage off the beach. We acknowledged and he thanked us, but jokingly mentioned that we had our work cut out for us. He walks the beach often and sees discarded trash on it daily. He said it was an impossible task and he now walks right past it – turning a blind eye to the debris. He spoke of the many gyres of trash circling our world’s oceans. The [not so] Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone is over 680,000 square miles. That’s a quarter the size of Australia! It contains roughly 3.5 million tons of trash including many ghost nets like the one we found. Each of the world’s oceans contain their own island of discarded trash. This is just the items that float and haven’t been already broken down into microscopic levels which are just as unhealthy for the oceans, the planet, and ultimately, us.
Certainly looking at the world’s problem from such a grand scale can discourage anyone but we must all do our part. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Many people ask what to do but the answer is staring at us everywhere we step. The story of one lonely piece of plastic can span the lifetime of a person and more — all the while leeching contaminates into our oceans, our land, and the food we eat. Properly disposing of these materials can not only save an animal’s life, but can ultimately save the human race and the planet. Think globally, act locally. Educate yourself and others about what effects our actions back home have on the environment.
When the task seems too great for just one person, just think of that minuscule baby loggerhead sea turtle and the challenges it will face before it will one day return to the beach where it was born. Facing unfathomable adversity, this miniature miracle of a turtle knows only to persevere in hopes that all his efforts will one day better the future of the planet. If he can do it, why can’t we?