Huge amount of trash cleared from turtle nesting site
Here’s what nesting sea turtles saw last month on a beach in Biscayne National Park, and we quote: “As we continued to walk, the accumulation of trash became more apparent, so much so that by the end of the boardwalk the amount of trash was staggering. The awesome sight of the island’s beauty at the start of our walk was replaced with endless debris that scarred the landscape, mixing as one with mangrove roots and sea wrack.”
You didn’t know turtles are that eloquent?
They’re not. Those are the words of Jessica Lee Pierce, who organized a beach cleanup by volunteers with the South Florida National Parks Trust. Their aim was to clear a nesting beach on Elliott Key of trash so voluminous that it was an obstacle.
The sight that staggered Pierce was north of Point Adelle, a bump on the ocean coast of Elliott, the park’s biggest key. The beach north of the point, about a quarter of a mile north of the end of the boardwalk there, is a turtle nesting target. They’re about at the peak point of nesting season now.
Pierce posted her observations on the National Parks Trust blog. We’ll quote her liberally, editing for brevity. Keep in mind that what she saw is what turtles see: “We followed our leaders past this endless debris and marched further along the shoreline. It was difficult to resist the urge to clean as we went, but our goal was not this garbage. The accumulation of trash is so endless that these cleanups must prioritize our efforts to the most critical habitats — nesting beaches.
“I was shocked by how much debris covered the area; from large derelict fish traps to broken down plastic so small it looked like confetti lining the shore. We filled bags, crawled under branches and sifted through seaweed. As I worked picking up plastic I knew garbage would wash ashore again, but I also knew that our hard work helped provide a small window of clear beach that will give a fin up to our sea turtle friends.”
Exactly how all the trash got there can’t be known. It is distasteful to consider that visitors to the national park might have tossed it on the spot — that beach is a short walk from Elliott Key Harbor on the bay side — but it’s also realistic to infer that a goodly portion was blown or dropped off boats and ships, or was delivered by wind and wave from up and down the coast beyond the park’s borders.
Pierce looked inward and felt uncomfortable if not exactly guilty.
“It is easy to get mad at our world and all the ‘other’ people who cause this mess, but while I was cleaning I found my life on that beach,” she wrote. “I felt connected to each piece of garbage I collected and was reminded that my lifestyle and consumer choices were the source of this problem.
“I was connected to the shampoo bottles, hair brushes, shoes, sandals, surfboard leash, tennis balls, chairs, fluorescent light bulbs, lighters, forks, straws, and other endless items I picked up that day. All of us, as consumers, are fueling the plastic demand.”
Pierce cites a 2015 study that estimated 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic trash got into the world’s oceans in a single year. If you’ve volunteered for beach cleanups like hers, you can believe it.
“To put that into perspective, our group of 15 cleaned up over 400 pounds of plastic trash in a few hours and together we added to the 7 tons of marine debris collected from Biscayne National Park since January,” Pierce wrote. “In the grand scheme of things that number is just a drop in a bucket, but the targeted effort to clean nesting sites does make a difference.”
The non-profit South Florida National Parks Trust helps the National Park Service to look after Biscayne, Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks and the Big Cypress National Preserve. It was created in 2002 with money from fines levied against cruise ships for dumping pollutants at sea.
For more info and volunteering opportunities, see www.southfloridaparks.org.