Ask Aubree... Episode One (Sea Turtles)

I love turtles! All of the turtles! Remember Crush from Finding Nemo? I think deep down he’s the reason I picked up surfing and say, “stoked” all the time. Crush is an inspiration man.

My first ever “Sea Turtle Experience” was on a Family Vacation. I’m guessing I was ten or eleven-ish. We pulled into camp at Dauphin Island right as the power went out. It had been storming like crazy. The entrance looked flooded out. It wasn’t worth the risk to driving in. There was zero visibility.

While we waited for word from the campground host, we took our dog for a walk. I saw something on the road. We carefully approached. This is snake country after all. As we got closer, we realized it was a baby loggerhead. It’s bonkers to me that such a tiny little thing ends up averaging 260 pounds in adulthood!

This story pre-dates The Sweeney Family having a cellphone. We walked our new friend about four miles back to the beach. I’ve never seen such a little thing swim so swiftly once he hit that water. It was one of those moments that changes your life and really makes you look at the big picture and our impact.

How did he get so far off track? More than likely, artificial light. Artificial light attracts hatchlings, who doesn’t like something that shines? If you live on or near the beach or are vacationing, please pull your curtains and shades so that our baby turtle friends don’t get lost.

Today, there are so many amazing resources if you find yourself in a similar situation. You can use that handy phone to call Fish & Wildlife or the local turtle monitoring organization and - please do that. Call them. They want to hear from you. If you do so happen to meet a nesting turtle or a hatchling, remember to shut off your flashlights and no flash photography – that one goes for all wildlife. They don’t like that… I don’t either – no flash photography, please!

Fast forward to present day: my Mom, Paco and I were in dire need of a house flipping break. If you’re interested in hearing more about the flip, checkout the upcoming episodes of Comedy & Camping with Aubree Sweeney. We took a day trip, west to Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center, stopping to checkout all of the Dog Parks on the way. I’ll get back to you with Paco’s Top Ten, as soon as he stops listening them all as “Number One”.

Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center is a small, but mighty facility. You will learn so much in a short amount of time. We were there just shy of two hours, but I did lose track of time hanging with Safari. Safari is an African Spurred Tortoise. She is a herbivore who was spotted eating the most delicious salad I have ever seen. When we got back to PCB, I went straight to Carousel Super Market and bought all the ingredients - Lettuce, Tomatoes, Soy Beans (I added Ranch and Olives for an Aubree Twist).

Safari is the third largest species of tortoise in the world. Her friends and family can weigh up to 231 pounds. Safari is not a Florida resident and was rescued in Pensacola.

Inside, you’ll find a 15,000-gallon saltwater pool which is where Sweet Pea lives. Sweet Pea is a Green Sea Turtle, just like Crush, but he was from the Pacific, she’s from the Atlantic. I might know too much about Crush.

She is non-releasable. Her story is harrowing and speaks to the adjustment we need to make in safer, more sustainable fishing practices and the things we can do from home to protect our wildlife.

To be clear, Sweet Pea is a survivor. Sweet Pea is happy. Sweet Pea is loved. Sweet Pea is an ambassador for change.

This is what happened, Sweet Pea was wrapped in fishing line and her left front flipper had to be amputated. She had a significant injury to the lower, left side of her carapace, more that likely from being struck by a boat, causing paralysis of her left rear flipper. What you don’t see is the internal damage Sweet Pea has due to swallowing fishing line and that line moving through her gastrointestinal tract, all the way through. This caused nerve damage and impairs her ability to process food properly.

A new friend slid into my DM’s after I posted my pictures from Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center. She asked, “I’m in Nebraska, what can I do to help the turtles from here? Other than cut plastic straws – I’ve already done that.”

The number one thing us humans can do, no matter where you are, to change our impact from negative to positive is REDUCE OUR WASTE.

Reusable bags are such a huge help to our environment in general, but especially for sea turtles. Sea turtles eat jellyfish – a plastic bag looks pretty darn close to a jellyfish floating in the water.

My goal is to be as plastic free as humanly possible by the end of the year and it really comes down to changing habits. I switched to natural detergents, bar shampoo and conditioner, I switched over to Thinx a few years ago and I love that company. Cleaning supplies are a great place to start reducing – I make my own, but there are companies like Grove that are working on waste reduction. I’m not super familiar with Grove, but I’ve heard positive things.

I started with the bathroom – what do I need, what don’t I need, what’s available and then moved onto the kitchen. I am still looking for a natural deodorant, that works really, really good, if anyone has a recommendation – please send.

Picking up litter is another huge way to help. I hear you, there’s so much. It doesn’t seem possible to get in front of it. Here’s the thing, I’m picking it up, you’re picking it up. You’re going to inspire a neighbor to pick it up, who will encourage a friend to do the same and so on – however many miles apart we are, we’re all one big community.

Many parks, conservation organizations, towns and cities host clean-ups. I’ve had the best time at beach cleanups and trash bashes - and have made some awesome friends. Picking up trash is like my favorite social outing. Contact your city or Park Department to find out where the nearest cleanup is happening and tell me about it! I want to hear about your experiences!

Or, create your own. Paco and I bring a reusable bag (called the trash bag) and challenge ourselves to fill it at least four times a week with litter. We have fun.

A very simple, very free thing to do is, ask where your food came from and how it was sourced. I felt like a total ass the first time I asked how my food was sourced. Here’s the thing, the staff always knows and it’s not a big deal. By normalizing this question, it encourages restaurant owners to push for safer and more sustainable fishing practices and beyond. It’s something you can feel good about and it’s nice to know where your food came from.

A few more - quick facts I learned at Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center to keep in mind if you live by or are visiting the beach.

1. Use the boardwalks and walkways. Sea Oats are protected vegetation that stabilizes the sand dunes and provides sea turtles a safe nesting area, blocked from artificial light.

2. Sea Turtles cannot back up. Remove beach furniture and recreation equipment.

3. Fill large holes and knock over sandcastles (in my case, sand-shacks). These can trap hatchlings. And, I don’t know there’s something cathartic in sending the sandcastle/ shack you built back to its natural state.

Meeting Sweet Pea and Safari is an experience I will not soon (ever)forget. They motivated me to learn more and do more.

Conservation is happening here and everywhere. I’m excited to be part of it. I hope you are too!

Checkout the other fun we got into this month!

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