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The Great Sea Turtle Race

Myrtle_2015.jpg

Was it pre-race jitters? Dash was feverishly thumping her flippers at the wooden sides of her beach corral. An attentive volunteer placed a white towel atop the sea turtle's head to calm her down. Meanwhile, the countdown was on for the 2015 Tour de Turtle.

Sporting a 27- inch long curved shell, Dash was going loggerhead-to-loggerhead with Myrtle (with a 43-inch shell). Close to a 2,000 spectators turned up last July at the Barrier Island Center located in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in southern Melbourne Beach to cheer on the two competitors.

Ladies, start your engines! Then the checkered flag was dropped. Turned out it was not much of a contest as Dash (appropriately named) scooted out of the corral and down the beach slope where she paused just a moment, then duck dived under a wave into the sea. Home at last. Time to the sea, impressively under two minutes. Left in the dust, er sand, was Myrtle still lumbering along. Well, she is a turtle, right.

It's time for the 9th annual Tour de Turtles where another pair of loggerheads will compete on a Sunday July 31 in Melbourne Beach. The goal is to see which turtle travels the furthest distance over the next three months. After laying their eggs in Brevard County they travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles, to feeding areas. They will be competing versus 11 other sea turtles released from beaches around  Vero Beach, Clearwater, the Florida Keys, Costa Rica, Nevis, Panama and Cuba. Each turtle swimming in the Tour de Turtles is an ambassador to raise awareness about a specific threat to sea turtles.

Created in 2008 by The Sea Turtle Conservancy, the Tour de Turtles is a fun, educational journey through the science, research and geography of sea turtle migration using satellite telemetry. With help from sponsors and partners, the Tour de Turtle follows the marathon migration of sea turtles, representing four different species, from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. Stretching southward into Indian River County, the rural beaches of the Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge comprise the top loggerhead nesting site in the world.

Sporting satellite transmitters atop their shells, Sea Turtle Conservancy and University of Central Florida researchers will monitor the turtles' travels during the next ninety days using instruments attached to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization weather satellites. The turtle that travels the furthest distance is crowned winner. Each contestant’s progress will be followed closely for years.

In 2015 Myrtle was fifth, while placed eighth  in the race. According to Becca Gelwicks of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, as of July 10, Dash covered 844 in 110 days and is currently roaming offshore in the Bahamas. Still being tracked, Myrtle has covered 1,732 miles in 347 days and is now hundreds of miles offshore in the Outer Banks, N. C. as of July 10.   Sea Turtle Conservancy officials had documented 15,290 loggerhead nests, 391 green turtle nests and 71 and one Ridley Kemp nest thus far this season that ends November 1.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy has created a secondary competition within the Tour de Turtles marathon known as the Causes Challenge. Each turtle is swimming to raise awareness about a “cause.” As a turtle is supported through Adopt-A-Turtle donations, her Cause Meter will show the amount raised by that turtle. Tour de Turtles is intended to teach us about the sea turtles' primary threats such as commercial trawl fisheries, plastic debris, climate change, light pollution along nesting beaches, egg poaching and boat strikes.  Fans can track all 13 turtles and the distance covered online at tourdeturtles.org.

Tour de Turtles schedule
The Sea Turtle Conservancy will host a Tour de Turtles kickoff celebration featuring hors d'oeuvres, refreshments,  live music, and a silent auction to benefit sea turtle conservation on Saturday, July 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Barrier Island Center, 8385 State Road A1A. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $35 at the door. The public can get involved by supporting a turtle's specific cause. All proceeds support sea turtle conservation efforts.

Sunday, July 31, two female loggerhead turtles will be released at 8 a.m. on the beach at the Barrier Island Center. After the release children can explore a maze to discover the threats sea turtles face and enjoy more family fun on the BIC's deck. Tour de Turtles T-shirts will be on sale. The event is free and open to the public. Officials recommend that attendees arrive 30 minutes early. Parking at BIC and the adjacent Bonsteel Park is limited, and carpooling is recommended.

For more information   http://www.conserveturtles.org/seaturtletracking.php?page=tourdeturtles-social   or call 321-723-3556.