DEEP: Long Island Sound: Home to Sea Turtles Too

September 22, 2011
 
Long Island Sound: Home to Sea Turtles Too
2011 is the Year of the Turtle

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), as part of its Year of the Turtle awareness campaign with Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), reminds Connecticut residents that Long Island Sound is home to sea turtles. Because these marine creatures are better known for breeding and nesting in the tropics, most people may not know that sea turtles can be found in the waters of the Northeastern United States. There are eight different species of sea turtles in the world; four of those have been documented in Connecticut waters in Long Island Sound. Sea turtles arrive in Long Island Sound in late June as water temperatures rise. By mid-November, they migrate south in search of warmer waters.

All sea turtles in United States waters are listed as either endangered or threatened, and are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. The ESA also provides for the conservation of important ecosystems that sea turtles depend on, and makes it illegal to "take," import, sell, or transport sea turtles, live or dead, or their products, throughout the United States or through foreign marketing. The four sea turtles found in Connecticut waters also are on Connecticut’s Threatened and Endangered Species List. Two are threatened – the Atlantic green and the loggerhead – and two are endangered – the Kemp’s ridley and the leatherback.

The nesting habits of sea turtles in Florida and other tropical areas have been well documented. However, because these solitary creatures rarely interact with each other outside of courtship and mating, very little is known about their natural history and distribution. What is known is that sea turtles face many natural and human-caused hazards that threaten their survival.

Threats in Connecticut Waters

  • Trash: Discarded plastic bags, wrappers, helium balloons, Styrofoam, and other plastic garbage that end up in the ocean can be deadly to sea turtles, as well as to other marine wildlife. These items, when floating in water, resemble food (such as jellyfish) to a sea turtle. When turtles mistakenly eat the plastic or balloons, their digestive systems become blocked and the turtles eventually die.
  • Fishing Equipment: Turtles can become entangled in discarded monofilament fishing line and other gear, preventing them from reaching the surface to breathe or cutting into the animal and causing infection or possible loss of limbs.
  • Vessel Strikes: Boat propellers, which often inflict serious wounds on sea turtles, have been responsible for many turtle deaths.
  • Pollution: When pollution, such as oil spills and run-off of chemicals, fertilizers, and petroleum, kills aquatic plants and animals, it also reduces the amount of food that is available to sea turtles. Pollution also can cause the turtles to develop diseases.

What You Can Do to Help

  • Properly dispose of or recycle plastic garbage, especially plastic bags.
  • Never release helium balloons. It is against the law in Connecticut to release 10 or more balloons in a 24-hour period.
  • Properly dispose of fishing line and other fishing equipment. Several monofilament fishing line recycling receptacles have been placed at inland and coastal fishing locations, thanks to support from Connecticut’s Endangered Species/Wildlife Tax Check-off Fund. The waste fishing line is collected by volunteers and then sent to a company that recycles it to make underwater habitat structures for fish. Visit the DEEP Web site (www.ct.gov/dep/whatdoidowith) to obtain a list of recycling receptacles locations.
  • Do not purchase illegal turtle products, such as leather and tortoise shell items.
  • Contact Mystic Aquarium’s 24-hour rescue hotline (860-572-5955 x107) if you locate a live, dead, or entangled sea turtle. Never attempt to rescue a live sea turtle on your own. If you notice an entangled sea turtle, please try to stay with the turtle for as long as possible so Mystic Aquarium’s rescue team can better locate the turtle.

You can learn about sea turtles and other native Connecticut turtles by visiting the DEEP’s "Year of the Turtle" Web page at www.ct.gov/dep/yearofturtle, as well as subscribing to the Wildlife Division’s Connecticut Wildlife magazine (www.ct.gov/dep/wildlifemagazine). You also can visit PARCs Web site at www.yearoftheturtle.org. To learn more about Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program, go to http://mysticaquarium.org/animals-and-exhibits/animal-rescue-program.