What Turtle Community Service in Cape Cod Taught Me about Climate Change

As some of you may know, I’ve always been passionate about animals and the planet. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll know before reading this article that both are taking a huge L as Earth’s climate continues to change drastically.

In recent years, I’ve seen more and more changes in the envrionment around me. However, I first saw how climate change has impacted on our planet with my own two eyes when I visited Cape Cod in 2014. During this trip, we did some hiking and some eating, but our main focus was to save cold-stunned sea turtles.

We have the power to make a difference — but not for much longer. Read ahead to learn more about my trip and how we can help right the environmental wrongs we’re facing today!

The Backstory

In 2014, I took a trip with an adventure literature class at Penn State to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In between reading books about Cape Cod’s unique landscape and exploring it a bit ourselves, we participated in some community service with the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Specifically, our job was to comb the many cold shores of the Cape Cod coast in search of cold-stunned sea turtles. Recently, I’ve been seeing quite a bit about this in the news and wanted to take the opportunity to share my story engaging in this wonderful cause.

A cold-stunned sea turtle is a sea turtle that is overwhelmed by how cold the sea water gets in the winter. In an attempt to prevent themselves from freezing to death, they swim to shore and crawl up onto the beaches of Cape Cod. However, what they find when they reach the dry sand is air that is much colder than the water that they’re in.

Volunteers and employees of the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary take it upon themselves to walk the beaches of the Cape Cod peninsula day in and day out looking for turtles that need their help. Going into this experience, I was expecting a Sea-World-esque experience (boo, SeaWorld), where we would touch some animals, take some pictures, and call it a day.

The serious impact of this literally deathly problem didn’t become clear to me until we were out on the beach the first night. The first three turtles we found where dead. It was devastating to see up close and we were discouraged from the start. Thankfully, though, our efforts were completely futile — we did save a handful of turtles including a literal handful of baby diamondback terrapin hatchlings that had hatched just a day or two before we found them.

Why We Need to Give a Shit About Freezing Cold Turtles

As the climate of the planet changes, so does the way that animals act. Sometimes they can adapt fast enough, but, as we seeing more and more, it’s evident that that’s not usually the case.

According to a 2018 report from the World Wildlife Foundation, the reckless treatment of our planet by just two generations of humans has killed off more than half of the Earth’s population of wildlife. Now, you can think to yourself, “wtf do cold sea turtles have to do with anything? I thought it was global warming that was the problem.”

The issue here is that global warming is a blanket term for a much bigger problem. Yes, the Earth is getting warmer — more than three degrees Fahrenheit in the last century according to NASA. But this seemingly small change in the environment is displacing animals all over the planet. Animals are sensing the change and fleeing their normal habitats in search of that normality, and this is where they get into trouble.

How You Can Help

Okay, now that we have all of the heavy stuff out of the way, it’s time to talk strategy. As the creatures that created this climate catastrophe, we have the power and the opportunity to throw this thing into reverse… but not for much longer.

A 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that we have around one decade — just ten or so years — to get our shit together, or the damage that we’ve done to the planet will become permanent. Animals will keep dying including us unless we do something about it.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be an expert in anything really to make a difference. Positive change happens through small yet consistent and conscious acts. Some of the ways that you can make a difference for the turtles, for the planet, and for us are…

  • Stop using plastic — It’s basic facts that plastic is bad. Either re-use or lose it.
  • Eat less meat — Cutting meat out of your diet just one day out of the week would make more of a difference than you think.
  • Consider other modes of transportation — Reduce the emissions you’re putting into the atmosphere by walking, riding a bike, or taking a bus/train.
  • Change your laundry habits — Use cold or warm (not hot) water to wash clothes and hang them to dry to drastically reduce energy usage.
  • Don’t waste food — Food takes up room in the dump, too. Either eat it, donate it, or buy less. It’ll save the planet and lots of money in your budget.

One last thing you can do to make a difference is spread the word. As long as we have a dialogue around climate change, it won’t fall to the wayside. Share these sustainability tips with your pals, coworkers, and family members!

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