Tag Archives: boat hits

Slow Down For Sea Turtles, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Loggerhead hatchling heads to sea. (Photo NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website.)
Loggerhead hatchling heads to sea. (Photo NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website.)

Miracles abound all around us, but sometimes they are hard to “see.” Life harden us, or keeps us so busy that sometimes we forget. One miracle I have been aware of most of my life is the journey of the sea turtles, especially the loggerheads, that hatch along our Atlantic shores here in our Indian River Lagoon region.

When I was a kid, during early summer my mother and father used to take my brother, sister,  and I on midnight turtle walks. This was Stuart in 1974. Not many people lived here. We kids would watch in complete amazement the gigantic mother turtles emerge from the sea to drop their eggs, like slimy ping-pong balls, into a deep hole meticulously dug while tears rolled down their faces.

Sea turtle laying eggs, public photo.
Sea turtle laying eggs, public photo.

“She is crying,” my mother would say…

Knowing that mom had borne us, we kids wondered about all this, but were soon swept up again in the dropping, the slow plopping of those eggs. Maybe a hundred or so of them…Hours later it seemed the giant and mysterious turtle— that my dad said had been on the Earth when dinosaurs roamed—would make her way back to the ocean. The stars overhead, clear and shining, revealed life’s great mystery. The turtle gone, her tracks reflecting in the moonlight, our family felt bonded having witnessed this ancient ritual…

These memories have stayed with me….

Over the years, I volunteered as a turtle scout and  learned about the loggerhead’s maybe 8000 mile migration in the Atlantic Ocean and how they have magnetite in their brains and are capable of reading God’s compass….I learned about how after floating around and hiding in the seaweed for up to twelve years they eventually find their way  home to their birth beach, stay in area lagoons or “safe areas”, and not until maybe 30 years or so, if female, lay their own eggs…

Migration route loggerhead sea turtle.
Migration route loggerhead sea turtle.
Front page of Stuart News 6-15-15.In Defense of Turtles a release story.
Front page of Stuart News 6-15-15.In Defense of Turtles a release story.

Yesterday there was a photo on the front page of the Stuart News, “In Defense of Sea Turtles.” A wonderful article about Inwater Research Group’s releasing of the animals.

Ironically, the day before Ed and I had gone to Indian River Side Park to walk our dogs by the shoreline and found a dead juvenile loggerhead  that had been killed by a boat hit. I called the Florida Wildlife Commission and reported the animal. They were very helpful. I talked to a nice young man named “David” in Jacksonville. He said there were only six people in the entire state covering reported deaths like this juvenile sea turtle….pathetic…

Broken shell from boat hit.
Dead loggerhead with broken shell in IRL from boat hit.(JTL)

While waiting on hold, I couldn’t help but think about how this young sea turtle until now had beat all the odds. Only one in approximately 4000 make it maturity, after swimming around in those ocean currents for years, avoiding predators, and reading the magnet of  the Earth in a way we humans still have not completely figured out….how amazing that this turtle found its way home only to be stuck by a speeding boat……

Not an inspirational end to a miracle.

I share this story not be negative but in hope that boaters in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon will keep an eye out and SLOW DOWN.

As Ed and I meandered home, I looked back and saw the turtle in the dark waves, as I was told to leave it there….I thought to myself, “a dead and broken sea turtle in the polluted and dying Indian River Lagoon—now that is a tragic metaphor for our times…..”

This is what we must live to change.

The loggerhead lies dead along the shoreline of the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo JTL 6-14-15)
The loggerhead lies dead along the shoreline of the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo JTL 6-14-15)

Live Science,migration of the loggerhead sea turtle: (http://m.livescience.com/21080-loggerhead-turtle-migration.html)

Florida Wildlife Commission:(http://myfwc.com)

Inwater Research Group: (http://inwater.org)

Sea Turtles Space Coast IRL: http://www.seaturtlespacecoast.org/about-us/indian-river-lagoon/

 

Up Close and Personal with “Clover,” the Newest Baby Dolphin, of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Clover the baby dolphin next to mother, Shamrock, May, 2014, Crossroads, SLR/IRL. (Photo Nic Mader, Dolphin Ecology Project.)
Clover- the baby dolphin, next to mother, Shamrock, May, 2014, Crossroads, SLR/IRL. (Photo Nic Mader, Dolphin Ecology Project.)
Nic Mader, taking photos of dorsal fins to identify IRL dolphins. (Photo JTL, 2013.)
Nic Mader, taking photos of dorsal fins to identify SLR/IRL dolphins. (Photo JTL, 2013.)

Nic Mader has one of the coolest jobs in the world, and one of great importance to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. She volunteers for the Dolphin Ecology Project in conjunction with Harbor Branch’s photo ID program. She photographs the dorsal fins of all dolphins in our area. When one looks closely, each dorsal fin is unique.

S. IRL dolphins fins/names created by Nic Mader 2013.
S. IRL dolphins’ fins/names created by Nic Mader 2013.

Generally speaking,  the IRL bottle-nosed dolphins are “site specific,” they have a “territory.” Even during crisis, like heavy rains causing polluted discharges and toxic algae blooms in our river from our local canals and Lake Okeechobee, the dolphins remain in our area within a range of about thirty miles. Nic photographs these dolphins and knows them by name. Her newest dolphin is a baby named “Clover.” The mother’s name is Shamrock. Baby Clover will stay aside Shamrock and accompanying group females for up to three years.

Clover is the newest documented member of the group/family of dolphins that live in the “southern lagoon,”which includes the southern IRL and St Lucie River. There are are other groups in the central and northern lagoon as well, all the way up to Volusia County. Sometimes these different groups interact but not too often.

Also, very rarely would one go into the Atlantic ocean through an inlet or a larger oceanic dolphin come inside. The dolphins of the SLR/IRL feel protected here. The entire 156 mile lagoon has about 800-1000 dolphins.  Just over a hundred live in the southern area full time.

Even though the lagoon provides protection, there are numerous threats to Clover and her friends and family.

1. Boat hits: More dolphins are struck by boat hits in the southern IRL than any other part of the lagoon and unfortunately Clover’s mother Shamrock is raising the calf in the Crossroads area, the busiest boat traffic area in Martin County. Fishing is good in this area so Clover is being taught to fish, like her pod, in these dangerous waters. (FAU/Harbor Branch Dolphin Health and Boat Hits: (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/marine_mammals/pbbe_lab.php)

Dolphin in IRL whose dorsal fin has been split by boat hit. (Photo Nic Mader, HBOI/DEP.)
Dolphin in IRL whose dorsal fin has been split by boat hit. (Photo Nic Mader, HBOI/DEP.)

2.  Toxicity: Harbor Branch has documented that IRL dolphin have the highest levels of mercury in the southeastern US. As much as 14 times higher than “acceptable” by FDEP. In fact, it is well accepted that the first baby dolphin a mother has often dies as mothers offload acquired toxins into the first baby that are stored in the mother’s fat. Just horrific. (Dolphin and Human Mercury IRL, Schafer, HBOI, (http://www.cehaweb.com/documents/2_000.pdf)

3. Fishing line and hooks: Unfortunatley dolphins are so smart it often gets them in trouble like when they try to steal fish off a fisherman’s hook or curiously tamper with crab traps getting the band stuck over their head and neck.

4. Feeding by humans: One of the worst things that can happen to wild dolphins is for people to feed them, as this behavior teaches them not to feed themselves. (PSA,Don’t Feed Wild Dolphins: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjHNXbviACk)

5. Lobomycosis: Lobomycosis is a terrible skin disease only know to affect humans and bottle nosed dolphins. Harbor Branch has documented more lobomycosis in the southern IRL (17%) than anywhere in the entire IRL, west Florida,  and SE US. This is linked to polluted fresh water releases.  (Abstract “Lobomycosis,”  Dr Bossert, Harbor Branch: (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10393-008-0187-8)

Lobomycois in S. IRL dolphins. Photo Dr Gregory Bossert, 2011)
Lobomycois in S. IRL dolphins. Photo Dr Gregory Bossert, 2011)

6. Chemicals: Unfortunately, septic tanks do not filter drugs that we all take and these drugs, antibiotics, even caffeine, find their way into our rivers accumulating  in dolphins. Many are immune to antibiotics in the IRL. (Abstract, Anti-biotics IRL Dolphins, Dr Bossert, Harbor Branch: (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19415386)

7. Morbillavirus: Morbillavirus is like dolphin measles. Presently there is an UME or “unusual mortality event” along the east coast of the US and thousands of dolphins have died. If there were contact between a sick oceanic dolphin and our IRL dolphins, our IRL dolphins could contract the deadly disease. (Abstract, Morbilliavirus IRL dolphins, Dr. Bossert, Harbor Branch: (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378113509005732)

8. Tumors/Papillomaviruses: About 33% of IRL dolphins have been documented to have tumors linked to papillomaviruses.  (Abstract, Papillomaviruses IRL Dolphins, Dr Bossert, Harbor Branch: (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378113512003574)

Most IRL dolphins have an average life span of 25 years – and a maximum life span of about 50 years. Dolphins living in the ocean have a longer average life span by about 15 years. Seems it would be the opposite as the lagoon is a “safe haven.” (Sea World, (http://www.animalsnetwork.org/wild-world/zoo-research/indian-river-project/dolphin-56.htm)

Clover, like all new life, has a mountain of obstacles to overcome, but making  that even more difficult is that, in today’s world, especially in the St Lucie River/indian River Lagoon, bottle-nosed dolphins’ immune systems are compromised due to poor water quality.

Let’s do what we can to help out. Please slow down if you are in the Crossroads, take the time to look around and see if you can find Clover playing in the waves or learning to hunt.  And most important, let’s not  accept the above list of 1-8 as “status quo;” let’s fight to give Clover a chance for a long and beautiful life along the Indian River Lagoon.

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Dolphin Ecology Project: (http://www.dolphinecology.org/FindOut/index.html) 

FAU/Harbor Branch and “Save Wild Dolphin” license plates: (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/)