Spring Break Trash

Spring Break: "Trashed" in Paradise


While this headline sounds like something you might read in a local newspaper in places like Panama City, South Padre Island, Fort Lauderdale, or Key West, we look at it from a far different angle and the reality is not pretty for the ocean and coastlines. With the Spring Break ritual in full-swing, college students are flocking to beaches across the Southern US and Caribbean in hopes of escaping the last gasps of winter and to let off a little steam from the everyday grind of student life.

It turns out that some of these iconic Spring Break hotspots are extremely important, ecologically valuable areas to the species that call them home. Take the Southeast coast of Florida, for example; it's now the beginning of sea turtle nesting season for endangered species like the leatherback sea turtle, green sea turtle, and loggerhead sea turtle species. 

80% of the entire Atlantic Ocean Loggerhead sea turtle population nests in this area!

With all the added trash, broken beach umbrellas, and chairs left behind by careless revelers, the chances for a turtle to become entangled in the debris goes way up. Also, when people dig deep holes to bury a friend or make a monstrous sand castle and don't fill them back in, there is a possibility that these turtles will fall in and injure themselves. Finally, late night beachgoers can easily startle a turtle when it is just starting to crawl up the beach to nest, turning them back to the sea, resulting in what is called a "false crawl."   


Spring Break Trash
Photo: Fort Lauderdale 2019


Spring Break Trash  
Photo: Fort Lauderdale 2019


Spring Break Trash  
Photo: Fort Lauderdale 2019


Spring Break Trash  
Photo: Fort Lauderdale 2019


When you think about South Padre Island for Spring Break, it's warm weather, sunshine, and beach parties that come to mind. Nestled in the Western Gulf of Mexico, the reality is that it's part of the longest barrier island system in the world and shelters the Laguna Madre Estuary, a critically important seabird and wildlife habit. Rarely does one think about the other four natural habitats that surround this party hotspot, either. On the US side of the border is the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge, the Padre Island National Seashore, and the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area. On the Mexico side is the Laguna Madre y Delta Del Rio Bravo State Park. South Padre Island, indicated by the red pin on the map below, is surrounded by these protected habitats, which are highlighted in green. 


South Padre Island Surrounded by Natural Habit


All of these protected areas are home to one endangered species or another including the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, the Brown Pelican as well as other majestic creatures like the Black Skimmer seabird. The only population of Ocelots in the United States also lives here. When the beaches are "trashed," much of this garbage ends up in the ocean and makes its way into the habits of these animals, threatening them with entanglement, ingestion, and death.


Endangered Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
Photo: Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle


Endangered Brown Pelican
Photo: Brown Pelican


Black Skimmer Seabird
Photo: Black Skimmer


United States Ocelot
Photo: Ocelot


Another one of the really sad parts to this whole equation is the fact that so many of the aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic bottles could be recycled if they were just disposed of properly. These items can linger in the environment and continue to pose threats to wildlife and habitats for centuries!

So, now that you know a bit more about how a week-long trip to paradise might turn into a much longer-term impact on the environment, the responsibility is on everyone to make better choices when indulging in this week of fun, sun, and who knows what else. Have a great time, kick back, enjoy time spent with friends, and but leave nothing on the beaches except your memories. Our ocean and the animals that depend on it thank you in advance. 

To get in on the conversation, head over to our Discover 4ocean Facebook Group. Also, make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay up to date on all things 4ocean!


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