Removing Debris to Restore Sea Turtle Habitat in Biscayne National Park

Volunteers with the Coastal Cleanup Corporation show marine debris collected from a barrier island within Biscayne National Park.
Volunteers with the Coastal Cleanup Corporation show marine debris collected from a barrier island within Biscayne National Park. (Photo Credit: Coastal Cleanup Corporation)

The Coastal Cleanup Corporation, the Biscayne National Park, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program teamed up to remove marine debris from sea turtle foraging habitat and nesting beaches and to educate the public about the problem of marine debris.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Florida & the Caribbean

Project Dates: July 2015 - October 2017

Who is involved?
The Coastal Cleanup Corporation, with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, led a two-year effort to remove marine debris from sea turtle nesting beaches and surrounding seagrass beds. The Coastal Cleanup Corporation also partnered with Biscayne National Park to both remove marine debris and monitor sea turtle nesting activity throughout the nesting seasons.

What is the project and why is it important?
Elliott Key, Old Rhodes Key, and Sands Key are three remote barrier islands located within the Biscayne National Park which have nearly ideal beaches for sea turtle nesting, as they lack man-made obstacles such as seawalls or concrete structures, beachfront lighting, vehicle traffic, and foot traffic. Unfortunately, these barrier islands are annually inundated with a tremendous amount of marine debris, adversely affecting the coastal dune and beach habitat and impeding the digging of nests by sea turtles. Previous efforts (led by the Coastal Cleanup Corporation and Biscayne National Park, and supported by a previous NOAA Marine Debris Program Grant) to remove marine debris and monitor sea turtle nesting found that reducing debris led to a number of benefits, including: an increase in the number of successful loggerhead sea turtle nests (federally-listed as threatened), a decrease in the number of false crawls (evidence of unsuccessful sea turtle nesting attempts), an increase in the percentage of hatchling emergence, and the observation of the first green sea turtle nest (federally-listed as endangered) since data has been collected at the park. Removing marine debris from these barrier islands and the surrounding seagrass beds not only increases sea turtle nesting frequency, it also potentially reduces the chance of sea turtles becoming entangled in debris or ingesting debris items.

With this project, the Coastal Cleanup Corporation and Biscayne National Park engaged over 200 volunteers to remove approximately 5 tons of marine debris from the nesting beaches, seagrass meadows, and mangrove creeks of Elliott Key, Old Rhodes Key, and Sands Key during 25 cleanup days. Biscayne National Park resource managers and volunteers from the Sea Turtle Monitoring Program volunteered approximately 1800 hours to monitoring sea turtle nesting activity. Data on the impact of debris removal on sea turtle nesting continued to be collected and analyzed. In addition, the Coastal Cleanup Corporation and Biscayne National Park held five community outreach days, using an interactive display to educate the public about the impacts of marine debris on the environment and the local sea turtle nesting beaches.