The South Florida Museum has created a new exhibit in the Aquarium that shows the ecosystem connections that manatees and sea turtles share and highlights how the public can help sea turtles — which are federally listed as threatened or endangered species — grow from egg to adulthood.
“Sea turtles and manatees share similar evolutionary histories — both animals are descendants of terrestrial species,” said Ashley Girt, Pathways Project and Content Development Manager. “But they also share similar threats — from loss of habitat to man-made obstacles. We wanted to develop an exhibit that would highlight some of the ways that the public can be good stewards and help keep sea turtles safe on our local beaches and in our local waterways.”
The new exhibit — Being a Sea Turtle is Hard — But You Can Help! — is now open in the Aquarium and features life-size scientific illustrations of the five sea turtle species that call the Gulf of Mexico home, along with the skeleton of a loggerhead sea turtle — which is the most common sea turtle species on Florida’s west coast. It also highlights information about loggerhead nesting on Anna Maria Island as monitored by the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, with running totals of false crawls and nests laid during nesting season, which takes place from May through October, and shows the public how they can make a difference in the lives of these animals.
“Being a sea turtle is really tough — scientists estimate that only one in a thousand sea turtles will survive to adulthood,” Girt said. “So if we can lessen the human pressures they face by doing some simple things like removing furniture from beaches at night during nesting season or reducing lights on the beach, they’ll be better off.”
Beach furniture can pose quite an obstacle for a nesting sea turtle mother as she crawls ashore to lay her eggs and, since just-hatched sea turtles follow the light of the horizon over the ocean to get to sea, bright lights from buildings can take them in the opposite direction — away from the ocean — and ultimately cause their deaths.
Removing furniture and using turtle-friendly lighting are two simple ways humans can help, Girt said. To find out other ways you can help protect sea turtles, visit the exhibit during regular Museum hours. Visiting is included in the cost of admission.
“Being a Sea Turtle is Hard — But You Can Help!” was funded in part by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded by proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at helpingseaturtles.org.