A turtle hatchling makes its way to the sea. Photo: Sea ShepherdA turtle hatchling makes its way to the sea.
Photo: Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will launch a third location for Operation Jairo, its 2015 Sea Turtle Defense Campaign, in Florida this week. The campaign will bring Sea Shepherd volunteers from Belgium, China, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom and United States to the shores of southeastern Florida’s Greater Fort Lauderdale area beginning on Wednesday, July 15.

Operation Jairo also continues in Costa Rica and Honduras where it began on May 31, marking the two-year anniversary of the tragic murder of young Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval.

In Costa Rica and Honduras, Sea Shepherd is currently patrolling the beaches to protect nesting turtles and their eggs from poachers. In Florida, Operation Jairo volunteers will work to defend these ancient marine species from other human-induced threats – the most deadly being commercial lighting along the beaches, which can disorient nesting turtles and hatchlings, causing them to head away from the sea and toward dangerous lighted roadways and properties where they can become dehydrated and die or get crushed by cars.

Florida beaches are crucial nesting grounds for sea turtles, important for sustaining populations of these migratory marine animals around the world. All five species that nest in Florida – loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley – are considered threatened or endangered. Each year, tens of thousands of turtle nests are laid on Florida’s shores. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 90% of all loggerhead turtle nesting in the United States occurs in Florida and the NOAA states that Florida is the most important nesting region for loggerhead, green, and leatherback turtles in the United States.

Teams of Sea Shepherd volunteers will patrol the beaches each night from July 15 through Sept. 30, working in collaboration with the local non-profit organization, Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (S.T.O.P.) to locate nests and rescue and release newly hatched leatherback, green and loggerhead turtles (the three species that most rely on Florida beaches for nesting) to the sea, as well as to ensure that local ordinances put in place to regulate lighting along the shore are adhered to and enforced by documenting and reporting violations. Sea Shepherd will be operating under a permit held by Richard WhiteCloud, the Founding Director of S.T.O.P. authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to train personnel to conduct rescue operations for disoriented hatchlings and document disorientation events, as well as the stranding or salvage of sick and injured sea turtles.

“Poaching is not the only threat faced by sea turtles, who are also at risk from plastic and other marine pollution, fisheries by-catch, entanglement in fishing gear and more. Right here on U.S. shores, these endangered species that have existed in the ocean for more than 100 million years are at risk of being wiped out due in large part to industrial lighting on crucial nesting beaches,” said Sea Shepherd Campaign Coordinator David Hance. “Along Florida’s Gold Coast, Sea Shepherd will work with S.T.O.P in the rescue and release of vulnerable newly hatched turtles as they begin their journey. Each hatchling that we shepherd to the shoreline represents hope for the future of these imperiled marine species.”

Sea Shepherd is also offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man and woman responsible for running over five nests laid by loggerhead sea turtles and killing three black skimmer chicks on Florida’s Anna Maria Island on June 27. Sea Shepherd Founder Captain Paul Watson, who announced the reward for the capture of these ‘turtle terrorists,’ has helped to bring national attention to the plight of endangered sea turtles in Florida.

Operation Jairo patrols continue in Costa Rica and Honduras, despite an attack by armed poachers against Sea Shepherd crewmembers on Costa Rica’s Pacuare Beach on June 25. Two volunteers sustained minor injuries. In Honduras, Sea Shepherd volunteers have located 16 nests to date, saving more than 1,600 eggs since the campaign began. Sea Shepherd is receiving ongoing updates from its team in Costa Rica, which has also been successful in its patrols of the beaches for nesting turtles and their eggs.

With an average of only one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings surviving to adulthood, Sea Shepherd is addressing the urgent need to protect these endangered marine animals before it’s too late.

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