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Florida Nonprofit Works to Rebuild Sea Turtle Population

By Kelly Church

When it comes to ocean conservation, sea turtles might not be the first subject that comes to mind. However, for the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, sea turtles are their only concern. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, nearly all species of sea turtles are endangered due to threats posed by humans, climate change and the devastation of their natural habitat. In many places, sea turtles are poached for their eggs, meat, skin and shells. The rise in average temperatures year over year are affecting how and where sea turtles lay their eggs, of which only a small percentage survive beyond their first year. Sea turtles have been caught in fishing equipment, unable to escape.

Enter, the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation. Since 1987, this Fort Lauderdale, FL marine conservation organization has been focusing on raising funds for sea turtle research and conservation. By supporting research institutes including Florida Atlantic University, NOVA Southeastern University, the Inwater Research Group, the Florida Oceanographic Society and the Florida Leatherback Project, the foundation is actively working to take sea turtles off the endangered species list.

"Sea turtles are considered endangered species in most parts of their global ranges, and have become icons of marine conservation," Lawrence Wood, Founder and Director of the Florida Hawksbill Project, says. "The foundation utilizes boat donations and monetary contributions to provide critical funds to researchers and organizations that work with sea turtle projects both in the U.S. and abroad."

Recently, the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation was named the home of the Florida Hawksbill Project, the first and only long-term study of this unique species of sea turtle. Not much research has been done on the hawksbill sea turtle because they don't use beaches for nesting and have previously been thought of as rare off the coast of Florida. However, the project is working to study the species, understand their movements and attempt to encourage population growth.

The organization is also strongly rooted in community education, acting under the belief that if you instill an understanding of marine life in youth, you instill a lifelong appreciation and respect for their habitat. Through interactive exhibits, outreach programs and working with teachers in schools, the organization has reached many children in the community.

"The National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation strongly believes that education is the key to successful conservation," Wood says. "It has provided educational materials, equipment, exhibits and displays to numerous entities and facilities."

The organization also offers an Adopt-A-Nest program that directly supports NOVA Southeastern University Oceanographic Center's Students and Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program. The program employs 23 field workers who watch more than 20 miles of beaches, marking and identifying endangered sea turtle nests. Adopting a sea turtle nest through the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation allows this program to continue. To adopt your own sea turtle nest, visit the organization's website at www.savetheseaturtle.org.

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