By: Joanie Cox-Henry Contributing Writer
With roughly 8 million tons of plastic thrown into the ocean annually, marine life is suffering, especially sea turtles. To further efforts to protect marine life locally, the City of Boca Raton launched, Coastal Connection, on March 2 at the Sea Turtle Day Festival at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.
Partnering with Gumbo Limbo, the program is an environmental initiative geared toward recognizing those who are acknowledging their role in their coastal community to create positive change. Throughout 2019, the city is focusing on a restaurant program to encourage businesses to initiate ways to become more environmentally conscious.
The Sea Turtle Day Festival drew hundreds of visitors to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center to learn more about this program and the daily efforts this conservation center is doing to rehabilitate and protect sea turtles and other marine life.
“This is our eleventh year,” said Michele Kurucz-Peel, president of Friends of Gumbo Limbo, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting the research, education, conservation and preservation efforts of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. “Our goal with this festival each year is education. It’s an opportunity to tell the community about how we can all work to make a change. This year, our theme is ‘Plastic free by the sea’ and while getting rid of straws is a great start, there is so much more we can do to protect sea turtles. Come to our Sea Turtle Rehab Facility at Gumbo Limbo and see humankind’s impact on on these precious animals.”
Swallowed fishing line, entanglement in nets and ingested plastics continue to be major threats to turtles.
“We are unfortunately finding plastic in all of these animals,” Kurucz-Peel said.
Gumbo Limbo volunteer Ann Langford hopes the more than 200,000 visitors Gumbo Limbo gets each year will help spread the word on the dangers of plastic in the ocean.
“Yaxley and Weasley are two sea turtles that came to us covered in barnacles,” Langford said. “Rowling is covered in tumors due to possible ocean pollution. “We have to work together to keep our oceans and beaches clean,” Langford said.
In addition to various food trucks, marine safety booths and a calypso steel drum player, there were also many pro-sea turtle vendors offering art work, clothing and accessories at the Sea Turtle Day Festival.
Florida Atlantic University graduate Kristin Darlin, who sells handmade sea turtle inspired beaded bracelets and marine life-themed towels and totes online at etsy.com/shop/darlinbeachco was selling her goods once again this year at for the Sea Turtle Day Festival.
“This festival makes keeping the beaches clean more fun,” Darlin said. “Sea turtles and the health complications many of them are currently experiencing is a direct example of how we’re treating our beaches. We need to make some major changes.”
For more on Gumbo Limbo, visit Gumbolimbo.org.