By Jhonatan Bonilla and Stephanie Melo
At the second floor of the Wilderness Visitor Center on Smith Point Beach, the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation conducted a workshop on March 9, 2020, to teach beachgoers the basics of rescuing sea turtles. The room, lined with windows, offered the 20 guests a front view of the shore, where stunned turtles end up.
The visitors at the “Save Our Turtles” event received a full presentation by Nicole Valenti, a volunteer, who talked about sea turtles on the island and what to do when a stranded turtle is found. Valenti used visuals such as a carapace, the top part of a turtle’s shell, to better instruct volunteers.
“Rehabilitation and getting them back in the population is important,” Valenti said. “We’re seeing more turtles coming up with the warming waters. Our goal is to educate the public. The more people know about these animals and the condition that they’re in, the better they’ll be to help them.”
This year alone, the number of saved sea turtles has hit a record high of 85.
The New York Marine Rescue Center is the only organization authorized to recover and rehabilitate marine mammals and sea turtles in the entire state. The non-profit focuses on preserving and protecting the marine environment through rescue, research and informative public educational programs for community members.
After the indoor presentation, Valenti took to the sand and hid “stranded” sea turtles along the shore to test what was learned. More importantly it highlighted the skills required if the attendees wished to be a patroller. A form was filled out by them, asking whether they would like to be a general patroller, volunteering at their leisure, or a rescue patroller, a more committed volunteer.
The event is arranged by Fire Island’s National Seashore’s volunteer coordinator, Irene Rosen, every year and would like to continue informing anyone with interest. With the number of rehabilitated sea turtles going up, “We should probably do this again in the fall,” Rosen said.
Those in attendance welcome the workshop and find the presentation filled with useful information. “We have to take care of the wildlife of our environment,” Steve Takats, an attendee and frequent volunteer, said. .. “[My wife and I] do a lot.”
“I think it’s a really great thing for the public to know about,” Hannah Clausman, another participant of the event, said.” If more people know basic information and they see a sea turtle they can say “Oh I know what to do now” without injuring it. More things like this is going to help future generations and park services overall.”