By Stephanie Carroll Carson
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Today is Florida's wildlife advocates are coming out of their shells to speak out on the importance of sea turtles to the world's ecosystem.
It is World Sea Turtle Day, and according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the Sunshine State is home to most of the sea turtle nesting habitat on the continent.
Gary Appelson, policy coordinator for the conservancy in Gainesville, is reminding residents of the turtles' importance.
"There's no other place in the country where you can even come close to seeing turtles as easily as you can here in Florida," he points out.
Florida is home to the largest amount of loggerhead sea turtle nests in the world, and its beaches also provide nesting places for green and leatherback turtles.
The nesting season is in full swing, and Appelson says it's important to remove all trash, furniture and umbrellas as you leave the beach each day, to help protect the turtles during this sensitive time in their life cycle.
Beach lighting also can have a big impact on the success of nesting season, says Elizabeth Fleming, Florida senior representative with Defenders of Wildlife.
She explains turtles instinctively use natural reflections of the water to guide them back to it.
Lights from hotels and streets can lead them away from the water – and ultimately, to their death.
"It's really important to reduce artificial lighting in coastal areas during the months when sea turtles are nesting,” she stresses. “Sea turtles need dark, natural beaches."
Appelson says World Sea Turtle Day is a good way to remind people about the threats sea turtles face in the state.
"It's not easy to protect sea turtles in a state like Florida, which has 19 million residents, 100 million tourists and a highly developed beach – but luckily, the State of Florida has very strong turtle protection laws."
Other threats to sea turtles along the Florida coast include the use of large, commercial fishing nets, coastal development, pollution and climate change.
Appelson says the state's sea turtle specialty license plate is the largest source of funding for protection, raising more than $1.2 million a year for conservation and research. Audiofile.