What is STERP?
by Renee S. Hurley
I remember the first time I heard this term and had no clue what it meant. It piqued my interest and I became an active member of the Sea Turtle ER (STERP) Program team in 2015. My love for the mission of the STPS and sea turtles was born!
There are currently 162 members of the STERP team which is led by Mr Dave Cheney, who has been part of this team since its inception ten years ago. He has been in charge of the program for the last seven years. STERP volunteers work under the Stranding and Salvage permit that is obtained by Mr Cheney. Team members are required to attend yearly training which is usually help in the May/June timeframe each year. They are also required to have a one-time training of Turtle Talk or Turtle 101 prior to attending the yearly STERP training. Once the team is trained and the permit is obtained a letter of agreement (LOA) is drafted and issued in August. This LOA allows the listed team members to perform the activities of STERP. The LOA expires at the end of the year.
STERP volunteers provide a myriad of activities during the Fall and Winter timeframe. An event will be called by Mr Cheney when a significant amount of post-hatchlings are suspected to be washed up on Brevard County shores due to strong winds, hurricanes, and other weather phenomena. When an even is called volunteers will walk the beach with containers and gloves in hand to search in the seaweed beds for trapped washbacks/post-hatchlings. No implements are allowed to be used when rooting through the seaweed as it could injure the imperiled post-hatchling. It is a pain-staking, yet very rewarding mission to be a part of.
Seaweed beds that will be searched when an event is called by the STERP team lead Mr Cheney (photos courtesy of Renee S. Hurley)
The first major event for the STERP team was in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew.
The statistics from the 2016 season:
Loggerhead Green Hawksbill
In 1181 54 17
Died 304 19 6
Transferred 300* 0 0
Total 877 35 11
*These were transferred to Volusia County by STPS
This year they had 1500 plus post hatchlings and hatchlings brought in by the general public, mostly after Hurricane Irma visited our area. STERP members are only authorized to work with post hatchlings. An event was not called this year as the public jumped into action after Hurricane Irma.
The volunteers also assist with transporting sea turtles to the various rehab centers at Sea World, Ponce Inlet and other locations.
October 20, 2016 washback sea turtle shortly after Hurricane Matthew (photo courtesy of Renee S. Hurley)
October 27, 2016 ready for transport to Lori Wilson Park collection point (photo courtesy of Renee S. Hurley)
October 27, 2016 other washbacks that were in collection cooler at Lori Wilson Park (photo courtesy of Renee S. Hurley)
And STERP members will be called to action during a cold stun event. Cold stunning refers to the hypothermic reaction that occurs when a sea turtle is exposed to prolonged cold water temperatures. We do not see many of these events in our waters but they are possible and STERP members are ready in case they have to respond.
Sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles that depend on external sources of heat to determine their body temperature. If they are in cold water they have no ability to warm themselves. Initial symptoms include a decreased heart rate, decreased circulation and lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and possibly death.
When I asked Mr Cheney if there was one thing to educate the public on STERP what would it be? “These are the individuals who have been trained to respond. This year we had several hatchlings that were brought to us by the public that should have been allowed to proceed into the ocean. In these cases our staff held them and did release them back into the ocean if they were hatchlings that were in a healthy condition with their yoke sacs attached”.
Think about becoming a part of our STERP team in 2018. Look for training opportunities starting in May/June. Such an amazing mission for awe-inspiring sea turtles!