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The Problem: Sea turtle nesting beaches everywhere have been substantially altered by urbanization and development. Coastal areas are considered prime real estate for many developers. As a result, many of the world's beaches have been heavily developed. These coastal property owners have built armoring structures such as seawalls and rock revetments to help protect their land from erosion. Governing bodies often respond to erosion with state-funded armoring projects that include inlets and jetties constructed along the coast, which alter the natural flow of sand.
What many don't realize is that these man-made structures prevent sea turtles from continuing their innate life cycles. Coastal structures directly threaten sea turtles by reducing suitable nesting habitat and displacing turtles into less-than-optimal nesting areas. Although armoring is intended to decrease sand erosion and, therefore protect the beach, studies show that areas protected by armoring are more likely create more severe erosion by interrupting natural sand shifts. So while property owners are protecting their habitats using these structures, the sea turtles are losing theirs. In addition, studies have shown that fewer turtles emerge onto beaches with seawalls than onto adjacent, non-walled, natural beaches. Those turtles that do emerge in front of seawalls often return to the water without nesting, known as a false crawl. Florida's beaches host approximately 90% of all the sea turtle nesting in the United States. But sadly, the number of these armoring structures in the state also increases every year.
Not only do sea turtles need to be wary of coastal armoring, but beach nourishment also creates problems. Beach nourishment occurs when sediment, usually sand, is transported to a beach suffering from erosion. This expensive process, if done incorrectly, can have severe impacts on the ecosystem. Nourished or renourished beaches have sand with a different consistency than that of natural beaches, which makes them unsuitable for nesting sea turtles. If this imported sand does not have the same quality as the original sand, the nourishment project will usually be wash away within a short period of time. These unnatural alterations to our coastal environment have a negative impact on all wildlife that depend on natural beaches.
Species Affected: All sea turtles are affected by coastal development and beach nourishment.
The Solution: Coastal resource managers have little detail on how differently constructed and positioned armoring structures affect sea turtle nesting. Additional studies are needed to further understand the alternatives to the current coastal structures. Current regulatory policies must change if there is any hope of saving natural beaches. These changes cannot take place the public's help.
* Don't build armoring structures on the beaches;
* Promote coastal construction set-back policies;
* Help re-plant native vegetation on dunes to refortify the beach.
Case Study: In 2004, Indian River County in Florida developed the Habitat Conservation Plan, designed to minimize the impacts on marine turtles resulting from the construction of county-permitted sea walls. The county has continued to permit sea wall development for years now and is one of the most armored counties along the Gulf. By some estimates, one third of the county's 35 mile coastline is armored. These types of armoring structures are harming sea turtles in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Models, made to predict the impact of such structures, have found that the cumulative impacts of beachfront armoring may be substantially greater than the sum of impacts from individual structures. As the extent of armoring increases, proportionately fewer nests are being laid on the affected beach.
* Learn more about CCC's efforts to “Free the Beach”
* Watch “Higher Ground: The Battle to Save Florida's Beaches
* Read more about coastal habitats
* Take the Coastal Habitat Quiz