Turtle Talk: Keep it Clean

“Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere, Clean up, clean up, everybody do their share.”

If you were alive and conscious during the 1990’s, you probably heard a big purple dinosaur named Barney singing this little ditty about cleaning up your messes. It was a simple message, but it’s a dandy.

Here on the Beaches of South Walton, we have locals and visitors on our beaches all year round. People do great things in this world, but they also make a lot of trash. During our busy seasons such as Spring Break and summer, the trash and other items left on our beautiful beaches can reach epic proportions.

But did you know that in addition to being ugly and obnoxious, trash could also be dangerous?

Sea life along our coast can fall prey to the items we leave behind. A careless act of laziness can lead to the death of an innocent sea turtle, something that the Friends of South Walton Sea Turtles wants to prevent.

According to Sea Turtle Conservancy’s website, more than 100 million sea animals are killed due to trash, mainly plastic, that they get caught up in or eat and can’t digest.

Look, I get it; we’ve all been there.

It’s been a fun day at the beach. The kids played with their buckets and shovels and floats and noodles and nets. Everyone has enjoyed snacks and cans of soda and bottles of water. But now it’s time to pack up and schlep all that stuff across the sand and up the steps. All those steps.

The kids whine they’re too tired to gather up their toys. Grandma is too sunburned to help carry her beach chair. Dad looks at the pop-up shade tent, and then at the teeny sack it has to fit back into it. It looks like he’s going to cry. Everyone is hungry. Someone suggest leaving the whole mess and coming back later.

So you leave everything there: trash, toys, chairs, umbrellas. You go back to your condo. Grab a bite. Take naps. Shower. Go to dinner. Oops. You totally forgot to go back to the beach for your stuff.

Here’s what can happen next.

If it’s sometime between May and October, a mama sea turtle might come ashore that very night to make a nest and lay her clutch of eggs. But when she encounters that stack of abandoned chairs and toys, she gets confused. Her heavy shell and small flippers have a rough go of it on sand. Her main element is water, and she’s as graceful as a ballerina there. But on land, she needs to make a straight shot to the dune line to deposit her precious bundle of eggs.

When something gets in the way of her journey on shore, mama turtle will simply make an immediate U-turn and go back to the water. Eggs unlaid. She might try again the next night, or she might not. Most likely she will end up trying to lay them in the water which results in death for all the baby turtles.

In addition to confusing or even trapping mama turtles, debris left on the beach often gets washed out with the tide. A plastic grocery bag could end up catching on a turtle’s leg. Then the bag gets caught on something on the ocean floor, and the turtle can’t get to the surface for air. She will die.

Or a little plastic paddle ball might get eaten by a turtle or any number of sea creatures. A small bit of plastic caught in their tummy prevents them from digesting other food. Without the nutrients they need, they will die.

Undigested plastic can also cause air to form in a turtle’s stomach. This makes them float constantly, making them unhealthy and more vulnerable to predators.

Wow. That spur of the moment decision to leave your stuff on the beach isn’t looking like such a good idea now, is it?

I know it’s hard. It’s hard to have the discipline to clean up when all you want to do is get into some air conditioning and have a nap.

But it’s the right thing to do.

Start the clean-up process early. Have the kids race to take the trash to the cans. The winner rides shotgun back to the condo. Maybe take a small load back earlier in the day. Plan ahead and the job won’t be so overwhelming.

Vacations are all about relaxing and having fun, but not at the expense of our natural sea life. What takes you five minutes to do could mean life or death for sea turtles.

So feel free to sing that annoying little song under your breath as you gather empty chip bags and collapse that tent.

“Everybody do their share.”

By Elaine Parrett