Covid conditions notwithstanding, this year the challenge to continue protecting Space Coast sea turtles is also hamstringed by one of the most powerful projected hurricane seasons on record. At the time of this writing, 13 named storms had been identified. Beach erosion is directly threatening nesting sites and, in some cases, discouraging female loggerhead and green turtles that typically nest in this area to abandon plans and return to sea. Nighttime lighting issues in Melbourne Beach at the beginning of nesting season this year required human intervention to help return the bright skies to the dark night environs that turtles navigate by moonlight to find nesting spots and lay their eggs.
Combined these issues with the fact that in-person fundraising is not tenable for anytime in the foreseeable future, and the results are daunting.
“Our revenue is down at least 40%,” said Sue Skinner, Board Chair and Director of Communications for the Sea Turtle Preservation Society of Indialantic.
Incorporated as a non-profit by a group of citizen volunteers, the STPS works to help educate the public about sea turtles and help “sea turtles survive” through conservation and preservation projects, and in partnerships with other conservation-minded entities such as the Brevard Zoo.
When the pandemic took hold of the nation in the late Spring, the weight of it landed around the same time as the start of the sea turtle nesting season. Approximately 90% of sea turtle eggs in the US are laid in Florida, and the Space Coast represents a disproportionate amount of that number due to the beach nesting areas and rich foraging areas in the Indian River Lagoon.
The STPS has spent years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, protecting sea turtles and offering up-close interactions through night walks, educational seminars and presentations, and community and fund- raising events. No money for their efforts is accepted from the government – it’s all through grass roots fundraising.
“It’s been a particularly rough year,” Sue said, but one that’s also forced a realignment of priorities and needs.
Nesting surveys have continued with a limited lineup of volunteers. The hotlines are up and running, though it may take a minute or two for responders to reach back if you leave a message. “They will get back, but we’re swamped with calls, especially during heavy rains and storm periods,” she said.
The organization’s seminal fundraising event “Turtle Crawl,” usually one of the county’s best attended, family friendly 5K walk/run through Indialantic, had to be converted to a virtual race this year. In 2019, the race registered 2,326 participants and raised over $60,000.
Typically, dollars raised from that event are turned over to the Zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center, which rehabilitates and rescues sea turtles found injured on the Space Coast.
“To address the anticipated shortfall this year, the STPS donated $10,000 on World Sea Turtle Day in June, and even though we are in the middle of a pandemic, people from the community matched and greatly exceeded our donations,” Sue said. All told, the community pitched in an additional $24,000.
Baby sea turtle adoptions and online sales also are helping raise funds, she said. “Our Facebook page (@SeaTurtlePreservationSociety) changes regularly with new merchandise, and adoptions are great for birthdays and education purposes,” she said.
For more information, or to volunteer, www.seaturtlespacecoast.org or call 321-676-1701.
Shawna Lucas (formerly Kelsch) has lived and worked in Brevard county for the past 20 years, serving in a variety of jobs and community service roles. She’s a former food and news reporter for Florida today, and was owner/operator of a marketing company that assisted clients and partners such as the Florida Healthcare Coalition, Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation for Florida, The Brevard Health Alliance, and Florida Tech to identify and solve pressing community health issues. She has she has dual bachelors degrees in Journalism and Sociology from the University of Miami, and was an inaugural fellow at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.