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The Battle Against Beach Cabbage: A Small Town’s Fight to Protect Sea Turtles

Source: Yahoo

In the coastal town of La Sabana, Venezuela, a silent killer threatens the survival of sea turtles. As local volunteers work tirelessly to protect these endangered creatures, they uncover a mysterious plant that could be the key to saving them. Join us as we explore the fight to preserve these ancient mariners and the community’s unwavering dedication to their survival.

La Sabana: Home to Four Endangered Sea Turtle Species

La Sabana, a small town on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, is famous for producing baseball stars like Alcides Escobar and Ronald Acuña Jr. However, it is also home to four of the seven sea turtle species on Earth, all of which are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. The loggerhead, hawksbill, green, and leatherback sea turtles all come to La Sabana each spring to lay their eggs in the sand.

Source: Flickr/Andresw9

Pedro Luis Pérez, a local volunteer, has been caring for and protecting these hatchlings for years. However, he has recently noticed a disturbing trend: the survival rates of baby turtles are plummeting. In one nest of 100 eggs, only two survived, leaving Pérez and his team puzzled and desperate for answers.

A Mystery Unfolding: Plummeting Survival Rates

As Pérez records the number of hatchlings born alive and the number of rotten eggs, he realizes that something is wrong. Before this season, he had never seen such low survival rates. In a nest of 100 eggs, only 13 survived, a stark contrast to the thriving populations of the past.

Source: Flickr/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

Unbeknownst to Pérez, a similar crisis was emerging in a turtle population more than 300 miles away on Isla Margarita. Biologists studying turtles at Parguito Beach were also seeing plummeting survival rates, and they had identified a potential culprit: an introduced plant called Scaevola sericea, also known as beach cabbage or sea lettuce.

The Invader: Beach Cabbage Takes Root

Angélica Burgos, a biology student and volunteer with the Nueva Esparta State Sea Turtle Conservation Group, first noticed the presence of beach cabbage in 2014. This plant, native to the mangrove swamps of the South Pacific, was crowding out the turtle eggs before they were even fully formed.

Source: Flickr/Birgit Rudolph

“We observed in the nests that the roots would occupy almost 80 percent of the hole,” Burgos explained. When Pérez learned of this discovery, he was shocked to find the same plant invading the nests in La Sabana. The silent killer had spread miles along the coastline, threatening the survival of the sea turtles.

The Spread of Sea Lettuce: A Landscaping Gone Wrong

The origins of beach cabbage in Venezuela remain a mystery. It’s possible that hoteliers in Margarita introduced the plant as landscaping, attracted by its green leaves and white flowers. Alternatively, its seeds could have traveled by sea, eventually reaching the shores of La Sabana.

Source: Flickr/University of Hawaii at Manoa

According to the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, beach cabbage can grow from seed even without water, making it a formidable invader. “The problem,” Burgos said, “is not only that it spreads faster than other species, but that the eradication of it on the beach is very complicated.”

The Fight to Save the Turtles: Eradication Efforts

To combat the spread of beach cabbage, specialists recommend removing large portions of the plant at once, placing them in garbage bags, and incinerating them when possible. However, even the act of removing the plant from the ground can inadvertently spread its seeds, making eradication a delicate and challenging process.

Source: Flickr/Mohamed Malik

Venezuela’s Environmental Ministry has confirmed that the plant is affecting turtle survival rates on Margarita, and officials have promised to eradicate it. However, local activists report that no work has begun, leaving the turtles vulnerable to this silent killer.

Human Impact: The Greatest Threat to Sea Turtles

While beach cabbage poses a significant threat to sea turtle survival, biologist Clemente Balladares, a researcher with the local environmentalist NGO Provita and Fudena, believes that humans remain the greatest danger to these endangered species. Fishing, hunting, and construction, even in protected areas, continue to harm the turtles.

Source: Flickr/NOAA Marine Debris Program

“The plant is a real problem, but for now, it’s restricted to certain places,” Balladares said. Since its discovery in La Sabana, three other locations in Venezuela have reported the presence of beach cabbage, highlighting the need for swift action to prevent further spread.

La Sabana’s Unsung Heroes: Nurturing the Turtles

Despite the challenges, the activists in La Sabana remain dedicated to nurturing the beach’s turtles, often without significant help from the government. Pérez and his team work tirelessly to protect the hatchlings, sharing information and strategies with other activists across the country through a WhatsApp group.

Source: Flickr/Jeso Carneiro

Each time the group releases the surviving hatchlings into the sea, local families gather for a celebration. A man who calls himself “Pachamama” – a Quechua name for Mother Earth – instructs the children to make a wish and gently place the turtles in the sand, hoping that one day they will return to the same beach to lay their eggs.

The Next Generation: Children’s Wishes for the Turtles

As the children release the hatchlings, they whisper their wishes for the turtles’ future. One by one, the tiny creatures make their way toward the ocean, their flippers leaving delicate trails in the sand. The children watch in awe as the turtles disappear into the vast expanse of the sea.

Source: Flickr/Joe Shlabotnik

One young boy follows a turtle into the ocean, watching as it swims away and vanishes with the setting sun. “I hope that I’ll see you again,” he whispers, a sentiment echoed by all those who have worked so hard to ensure the survival of these magnificent creatures.

International Efforts: SEE Turtles and Global Conservation

The plight of the sea turtles in La Sabana and Margarita has not gone unnoticed by the international community. Organizations like SEE Turtles, a Portland-based advocacy group, are working to raise awareness and support conservation efforts around the world.

Source: Flickr/Steve Dunleavy

Brad Nahill, president of SEE Turtles, acknowledges the numerous threats facing sea turtles, including illegal collection for the black market, natural predators, and rising sand temperatures due to climate change. However, he emphasizes that human activities remain the most significant threat to their survival.

The Importance of Political Will: A Call to Action

As the battle to save the sea turtles continues, activists stress the need for political will and government support. The Environmental Ministry’s confirmation of the beach cabbage problem and promises to eradicate it has yet to result in concrete action, leaving local groups to carry on the fight alone.

Source: Flickr/Prof EuLOGist

“We alerted authorities, but they said they have to wait until higher officials give the orders,” one activist wrote in the WhatsApp group. “There is no political willingness.” Without the backing of the government, the future of sea turtles remains uncertain.

A Community United: La Sabana’s Unwavering Dedication

Despite the challenges and lack of government support, the people of La Sabana remain united in their mission to protect sea turtles. From the tireless efforts of volunteers like Pérez to the wishes whispered by children as they release the hatchlings, the community’s love for these creatures is evident in every action.

Source: Flickr/justdrew912

As the town looks forward to the arrival of the next generation of sea turtles, they hold onto the hope that their efforts will not be in vain. The turtles born on this beach years ago, when an even smaller group fought for their survival, are a testament to the power of perseverance and dedication.

The Race Against Time: Protecting an Ancient Legacy

The sea turtles that call La Sabana home are more than just endangered species; they are living remnants of an ancient past. These creatures have navigated the Earth’s oceans for millions of years, adapting to countless challenges and changes.

Source: Flickr/NOAA’s National Ocean Service

Now, as they face the most significant threat to their survival – the impact of human activity – it is up to us to ensure that they can continue their journey. The race against time to protect these magnificent creatures is not just about preserving a species; it is about safeguarding an irreplaceable part of our planet’s history and biodiversity.

A Message of Hope: The Resilience of Nature

Amidst the struggles and setbacks, the story of La Sabana’s sea turtles is ultimately one of hope. The resilience of these creatures, who have survived for millions of years, is a testament to the indomitable spirit of nature.

Source: Flickr/Russell Watson

As the people of La Sabana continue their fight to protect the turtles, they draw strength from the knowledge that every hatchling released is a small victory. Each tiny flipper that propels a baby turtle towards the sea is a symbol of the unbreakable bond between humans and the natural world.

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Matty Jacobson

Written by Matty Jacobson

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