Abstract Submitted to the Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Meeting

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William Zeits
Tara Dodson

Keepers of the Coast, St. Augustine, FL
During re-occurring weather patterns in the SE Atlantic Ocean, wrack can form along the tide line of beaches located in North East Florida with considerable amounts of marine debris such as plastics, latex, rubber, rope, fishing gear, etc. entrapped in the line of sargassum. Marine debris has the potential to harm ocean wildlife including marine turtles because these items can be mistaken as potential food sources. If ingested this may block their gastrointestinal tract and slow down their metabolic rate, which may cause sickness and death. When these items are picked up off the beach or if they are never allowed to enter the ocean they no longer pose a threat to wildlife. During opportunistic beach cleanups by volunteers during and after these significant wrack events marine debris such as plastic containers which hold various liquids, plastic bottle caps and Styrofoam encased radiosondes were collected. Each year the National Weather Service releases 75,000 radiosondes for the purpose of collecting weather data. Twice a day 365 days out of the year these sondes are released from multiple stations across the country and may land in various ocean locations. They are small, expendable packages suspended by a 2 meter (6 feet) wide balloon linked to a battery powered radio transmitter with heavy gauge string and other plastics. The Styrofoam casing with batteries still intact is a prominent piece of the collections thus far. Other items found such as plastic bottle caps and other plastic containers were tracked back to their manufactured country of origin. These countries of origin are found in the SE Atlantic and Caribbean, which includes Venezuela, Haiti, Brazil and others not noted here. The items collected from the beach displayed signs of algae and barnacle growth therefore revealing that they had been adrift at sea for some time. After further review of the collected items potential evidence of bite marks and depressions from various marine wildlife organisms were evident. In the event these items drifted from the manufactured countries of origin and landing locations of the radiosondes they could have been carried by ocean currents and passed through critical foraging habitat for marine turtles. We are not aware of any published reports that demonstrate that these suspect bites are from marine turtles. However, further research could confirm. Additional review of collected materials may also suggest that the absence from the SE Atlantic Ocean of Styrofoam casing, and batteries of the radiosondes along with an array of plastics will reduce or eliminate the potential for marine turtles to mistake these items as a potential food source.