Sunday, August 14, 2011

Loggerhead Speared in The Keys

Reward Up To $12,850.

The reward for information leading to the conviction of the person who speared an endagered loggerhead sea turtle near Big Pine Key is up to a whopping $12,850 -- plus three free fishing trips, three free diving trips, and eight hours of welding.

The reward pool has grown since Turtle Hospital founder Richie Moretti immediately pledged a $500 reward, supplemented by turtle lovers from Key West to Sarasota.

"We're still getting calls with donations for the reward, so it's not over yet," said Turtle Hospital manager Jo Ellen Basile. "You don't do that to our turtles in the Keys. I think it says something about our community. People are outraged that someone would do that -- both because of the cruelty and the wasted resource."

The 125-pound subadult sea turtle, nicknamed Sara by staffers of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon where she is recovering, was discovered on August 3 with an unusually high-powered 4-foot spear lodged through her head.

"People immediately recognized it as a type not normally sold in the Keys," said Basile. "It's a Torres pneumatic spear, a higher powered weapon than is normally used for spearfishing here. You'd be more likely to use that whale hunting."

After spotting Sara struggling to come up for air about 3 miles offshore, a fisherman and his son contacted the Coast Guard for permission to capture the endangered turtle, and then spent 40 minutes bringing her on board before meeting turtle rescue at their dock.

Monroe County Fire Rescue cut down the spear for safer transport, and subsequent x-rays at the Turtle Hospital showed the spear had penetrated behind an eye and across the back of Sara's throat, just missing her brain.

The spear's barb made it impossible to put out the way it had gone in, so volunteer veterinarian Dr. Doug Mader had to push it out through the other side of her head where it had already poked through the skin.

Harming a loggerhead turtle is a violation of the US Endangered Species Act, and carries a third degree felony charge in Florida. After it was removed, the spear was taken into evidence by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

For Sara, it was a narrow escape. "She's doing great," said Jo Ellen Basile, Turtle Hospital's manager. "She's healthy and fiesty, one lucky turtle."

Hospital experts expect Sara will be healthy enough for release in about a month.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Items left on the beach overnight are a hazard to humans and sea turtles.

Tense battle over beach tents
ORMOND BEACH -- After years of oceanfront living, Carol MacLeod watched in excitement early one morning as a female sea turtle dug a nest and deposited eggs right in front of her beachfront condominium.

MacLeod's delight turned to doubt when she saw the gauntlet the turtle had run to crawl up the beach. Crawl tracks in the sand showed the turtle had made a hard turn on the way up to avoid a tent pole among an array of poles left wedged in the sand overnight. It would face the same obstacles on the way back out to sea.

The experience prompted MacLeod to get in touch with her Volusia County councilman, Carl Persis, who brought the issue to the Volusia County Council at the end of a recent meeting.

Now the county has a crackdown in the works.

"In the past, we've put stickers on it, given them time to remove it," County Manager Jim Dinneen said. "That's not working for us."

MacLeod and others say the number of items left in the sand overnight seems to be growing, causing concern for both turtles and people -- the latter who walk and run the beach after sundown. The turtle MacLeod saw was an adept one. Some people aren't so lucky.

Dinneen, for example, nearly fell face-first in the sand one night when he jogged between two seemingly empty volleyball poles. (An unseen cord "got me right below the knee," he said.) Another night, when District 3 Councilwoman Joie Alexander was on the beach with her family, she watched as one of her grandchildren tripped over a piece of abandoned gear and fell in the dark.

All Volusia County does in cases like these, for now, is stick a tag on the offending item. As Dinneen pointed out, it isn't working.

But the tents, especially those people intend to return and pick up the next day, present a legal quandary for the county. The county does not have an ordinance that bans items from being left on the beach.

Beach Patrol Capt. Tammy Marris said patrolling officers don't drag off anyone's property because no ordinance allows them to do so. Instead, the tagging program takes place under an existing state law for abandoned property.

The tags don't threaten any consequences, simply stating: "Remove beach furniture at night for the safety of all beach users," followed by contact information for the county's beach services division.

Florence Bertolucci and her husband, who own a condo in the Shoreham in Ormond-By-The-Sea, watched Thursday evening as one group after another packed up and left their tent structures up along the beach. Even though it's a lot of work to lug all the stuff children need back and forth to the beach, Bertolucci said an ordinance to prohibit leave-behinds would be a good idea.

"I would definitely support that," she said.

A strict ordinance has been successful in Walton County, a tourist destination in the Panhandle that used to have a similar beach-clutter problem. The 2008 measure, county spokesman Ken Little said, "has worked out well and sort of mitigated" the issue.

In Walton, tent structures can stay up overnight if they're on the edge of the dune and "arranged in a compact configuration to avoid clutter." If the tent is too cumbersome to move back to the dunes, the owner can ask the county for a free permit to leave it out.

Otherwise, it can become county property. Officials there have broad power to deny permit requests, and the county reserves the right to take anything that stays on the beach longer than permitted.

Across much of South Walton, where there are more single-family homes on the beach than condos and hotels, Little said the people "have more space and luxury to haul a bunch of stuff down to the beach than out of a hotel room." But since the ordinance passed and the county posted warnings, he said, beachgoers have learned.

"There have been no complaints about it lately," Little said. And "we're having a banner year this year. The place is just slammed full."

People often assume that a federal permit the county holds, which allows beach driving while managing for sea turtles, requires the county to pick up or move stray items on the beach that could interfere with turtle nesting, but that isn't the case, county officials said. It does prohibit items from being left inside the marked conservation zones, set aside along the beach for sea turtle nests.

The federal permit also requires the county to remove obstacles when the eggs in a nest are due to hatch, said Jennifer Winters, who manages the county's sea turtle habitat conservation plan..

County volunteers on early morning turtle patrols keep track of those due dates, and on those nights, a contractor rakes over ruts and removes any obstacles across a 30-foot path between nest and ocean, Winters said. Those same volunteers also tag items they see left on the beach.

That, Winters said, is all the county is legally allowed to do.

County officials are considering their options. It's unclear if they will draft a specific ordinance or explore some other option. For safety reasons, Dinneen recently decided to pull the Beach Patrol's fleet of pickups off patrols -- opting for smaller ATVs in the future -- and it's unclear if the ATVs will be capable of hauling much abandoned gear.

The pickups could still go out on early-morning tent patrols, County Council members suggested at their last meeting.

Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman said any ordinance must be structured to stay within the scope of the county's authority -- public safety -- without violating private property rights. For example, no single boundary establishes private property ownership along the beach, and boundaries vary widely. In some cases, lots are owned all the way to the mean high water mark, Seaman said.

Dinneen suggested the county could print warnings on the next round of brochures, provide signs for hotels to post on their properties, and then start hauling off the clutter.

Alexander suggested donating the spoils to local booster clubs or Pop Warner teams -- groups that will put them to good use.

Persis said he hated to add another task to the list of jobs for county staffers, but the problem has become a safety issue in many areas, especially in his district.

"We've had cases where those poles come loose, winds pick them up, and then you have a flying missile through the air," he said. "That's not the way you want to enjoy the beach, with things being hurled at you."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Take Action for Manatees!

Your Urgent Support Is Needed For Critical New FWS Protections for Manatees in Crystal River

Sign to support the proposal (FWS-R4-ES-2010-0079) made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate Kings Bay in Crystal River as a manatee refuge.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Again? Really??

Beach Patrol truck strikes beachgoer By MARK HARPER, STAFF WRITER
July 31, 2011 1:19 PM Posted in: News Tagged:Beach Patrol , crash

DAYTONA BEACH SHORES -- An adult female was injured this morning when a Beach Patrol lifeguard making a U-turn struck her with his truck.

The woman, whose name has not yet been released by authorities, was taken to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach after the crash, said Sgt. Daniel Caulk of the Florida Highway Patrol. She was in stable condition.

Lifeguard Thomas Moderie, 22, was driving a Beach Patrol pickup truck north in the beach lanes just north of Dunlawton Avenue when a pedestrian approached him and mentioned that broken glass had remained at the scene of a previous accident, Caulk said. Moderie made the turn to head south when he struck the woman, lying in the sand, in her "head area," Caulk said.

"From what we can tell, he did a safe turn while he was attempting to head south," Caulk said.

Marisa Caro, of Daytona Beach, was sunning herself nearby when she heard screams.

"Crazy, crazy," she said. "(The driver) was a young kid. He was very nervous. He called immediately (for help)."

Any decision on charging the driver is pending further investigation, Caulk said.

The accident occurred at 10 a.m., Highway Patrol Sgt. Kim Montes said.

This was at least the sixth time since 2003 that a Beach Patrol vehicle was involved in an accident on the beach.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Save Turtles From Dying

Sign the petition.

Shrimp nets are drowning turtles, but they don't have to.

Dead sea turtles are washing up on Gulf shores by the hundreds. More are falling uncounted onto the ocean floor. They are victims of drowning, caught in shrimp nets and unable to escape.

Shrimp nets don't have to kill. They can - and should - include escape hatches called Turtle Excluder Devices. But records show that many fishermen are ignoring the rules, and no one is stopping them.

We are calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service to enforce the rules already on the books and protect endangered and threatened turtles. Sign before July 29 and speak out against this unnecessary massacre.