Everything You Need to Know About Sea Turtles on Long Island
June 16th marks World Sea Turtle Day, a global celebration dedicated to honoring, understanding, and protecting this truly amazing species.
As water temperatures increase, the presence of sea turtles will become more prevalent here on Long Island, making June the perfect time to come together to better understand these gentle giants.
It’s important to note that not all turtles are sea turtles. Sea turtles are a specific subset of turtles that have adapted to living in marine environments. Sea turtles have streamlined bodies, flippers, and a more hydrodynamic shell compared to their land-dwelling counterparts.
There are 12 native species found on Long Island; currently, nine are either endangered, threatened, or of concern. All turtles are protected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which implements measures and regulations to safeguard their well-being and conservation.
Such protections include restrictions on hunting, habitat preservation, captive breeding programs, and monitoring of populations. Under the oversight of this agency, sea turtles receive legal and environmental safeguards to ensure their survival and help sustain their ecosystems.
Karen Testa, executive director of Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, Inc., explains the best way to protect sea turtles is with prevention.
“Sea turtles and many other marine species are impacted by plastic debris through ingestion, suffocation, and entanglement,” Testa says. “Cut all strings and netting and cap all bottles before throwing them away in the trash. Avoid single-use plastics and make sure all balloons are thrown away properly.” These items wind up in our waters and become major hazards for marine life.
In the event you come across a stranded, beached sea turtle, contact a licensed rescue organization immediately. Stranded sea turtles may be injured, sick, disorientated, or have been carried by strong currents. They are unable to return to their natural environment on their own, and their survival may be at risk. Never bring any turtle home; it is illegal.
The protection of all turtles on Long Island is important, including those living on land.
“Turtles are small and do not move fast, so it’s important to watch for them while driving,” Testa says. “They cross roadways because they are in search of food and are nesting. Around your home, be sure to cover window wells which can be a death trap for wildlife, place low-lying water dishes near your pool, and use organic chemicals and insecticides like ‘safer soap’ brand.”
To report a turtle in distress, call the New York Marine Rescue Center Stranded Hotline at 631-369-9829. And for more information about sea turtle conservation, Testa recommends visiting the Sea Turtle Conservancy in Florida at conserveturtles.org.