Summertime is here and with the warmer weather and school out, many people will be on the move. From trips to the beach to local theme parks and even taking vacations, there is much to see and do in Osceola County and throughout Florida. However, people are not the only ones on the move. The summer months can provide challenging for wildlife. Many species are active during the summer as the weather heats up and they can be impacted by human activities. It is important to remember that even our slightest mistake can have huge implications for wildlife.
Both terrestrial and aquatic turtles and tortoises are on the move. You may find them trying to cross the road or laying eggs at your favorite local beach. It is ok to stop and help these slow-moving reptiles if it is safe for you to do so. These animals are frequently hit by cars crossing the road and can survive for quite some time suffering from their injuries until death ensues. If you do move one of these reptiles be sure to be careful as snapping turtles have long necks and may not go willingly. For snapping turtles, gently push them along using a blunt object to avoid any unwanted snapping strikes. For other turtles and tortoises, hold them by the shell between the front and back limbs. When moving our reptile friends make sure you cross the street and place the turtle or tortoise in the same direction it was traveling. If you do find a turtle or tortoise that has a damage shell, take the animal to a local vet or call someone involved with wildlife rehabilitation for assessment. Often times the shell can be mended resulting in a full recovery and in the event that the animal is too far gone, they can reduce pain and make the animal as comfortable as possible or euthanize the animal if necessary, but always as a last resort.
For sea turtles, be aware of your surroundings at the beach. They can be trapped in monofilament fishing line and ingest hook and plastics. It is also important to be mindful of turtle nests. These animals lay their eggs in dunes at night. In certain areas it is common place to turn your lights off during certain hours so that when the sea turtles hatch, they move the right direction towards the ocean and not further towards a beach house. Babies hatch under the cover of night to increase their chances of survival and so they are not easily snatched up buy hungry predators such as sea birds. Sea turtles are protected so if you do find an injured turtle or uncovered nest, please contact the proper authorities or rescued organization.
Boating and fishing in local lakes, estuaries, rivers, and even the ocean increase during the summer months. With this comes the inherit risk associated with the increase in human activities. Many people, for instance, can hook sharks or alligators while fishing recreationally. Because many are scared of sharks and alligators, these animals are left with extremely long monofilament line attached or even killed. Sharks and alligators are vital members of their environments and food chains and play a role as the keystone species maintaining a healthy population of other species. They are equally important species to protect. If you hook a shark or an alligator, it is best if you reel it in and try to take the hook out with pliers if it is safe. Otherwise cut the line as close to the shark or alligator to release them.
Likewise boating and fishing poses danger to marine mammals. Many manatees and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) are injured by boat strikes often resulting in blunt force trauma or being cut by the propellers. Make sure you follow and posted signs and move at appropriate speeds in areas known for their marine mammal populations. These animals can also become entangled in monofilament fishing line. If you spot and beached animal, and injured animal, or an animal in distressed please contact rescue organizations such as SeaWorld and government organizations such as the FWC, as these animals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection act.
Finally, always take away what you bring. One of the biggest threats to wildlife is plastic and other pollution that is simply left behind from human activities. Straws are not an animals friend and many of the left behind straws are removed from turtle noses and marine mammal stomachs. Turtles will also mistake floating plastic bags for jelly fish, a favorite food for some of the sea turtle species. Many animals die each year as a result of ingesting trash and living in polluted waters. The best thing we can do for all animals is to be aware of our surroundings, remove any trash from their environment, properly discard monofilament fishing line in the appropriate receptacle (often located on beaches), and report any injured, distressed, or dead animals to the proper experts.
This year let’s make a pact that we will protect our native species and be vigilant this summer as we share their environment and not increase threats to these animals. Let’s make a positive and impactful change as we educate ourselves and share what we learn with others about these amazing animals. This is just another way Positively Osceola can encourage Osceola county to make a positive difference every day. Change starts with us.