Every spring, mother sea turtles come ashore under the cloak of darkness to lay their eggs on the sandy beaches of North Carolina. And every morning, volunteers look for signs of these nesting sites so they can help monitor and protect them.
It’s alarming, but not surprising, considering that more than 10 million pounds of trash were removed from our ocean and waterways during the 2012 International Coastal Cleanup.
While many man-made obstacles—from coastal development and artificial lighting to fishing and hunting—threaten sea turtles, trash is one threat that travels great distances and is present both on land and in the ocean. It is also entirely preventable.
By studying dead and stranded sea turtles, we’ve learned that they sometimes eat trash in the water—especially items like plastic grocery bags, which can resemble their favorite food: jellyfish. But we don't know much about how sea turtles interact with trash while coming ashore to nest.
That's why we're teaming up with the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project to pilot a new initiative that will put a cleanup data form in the hand of every volunteer monitoring the beach for sea turtle nests. The data they collect will tell us what kinds of items they picked up and, eventually, which stretches of beach are most likely to have trash items that could affect the health of the sea turtles that nest there.
While we’re excited about this new project, we also know that simply cleaning up trash isn't enough. In addition to endangering baby sea turtles on their way back to sea, ocean trash is a threat to our economy and our health. And unless we change our habits, it’s here to stay.