Tour de Turtles kicks off this weekend on the East Coast of Florida, and the state's visitors and locals alike have several opportunities to join in the fun surrounding the marine marathon.
Started in 2008 by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Tour de Turtles is an interesting way to learn about the long migration of sea turtles from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. Tracking is done through satellite telemetry, with transmitters sending signals each time a turtle surfaces to breathe. Those who follow along at tourdeturtles.org will be exposed to the science and geography of sea-turtle migration. At the same time, researchers hope to gain more knowledge about the migratory practices of the endangered species because so much still is unknown.
This is the seventh year for Tour de Turtles, and there will be between 10 and 13 sea turtles representing four or five different species. The turtles leave from various nesting beaches around the world, including one in front of Disney's Vero Beach Resort, during the last part of July and will be tracked for three months. The turtle that swims the farthest during that time will be declared the winner.
As in past years, two Loggerhead turtles will begin their marathon in front of the Disney hotel. Resort guests and the public are invited to watch, beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, July 26. In addition, their human supporters are invited to stay for a free beach party that will include appearances by royal sisters Anna and Elsa from "Frozen" and a photo opportunity with Olaf, the snowman who longs for summer. There also will be turtle-themed activities, of course. A cast member told me that the public is welcome to park at the resort, walk through the lobby and out onto the beach for the kickoff and party.
From 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 26, the Sea Turtle Conservancy is hosting a party to benefit the animals and their habitat in Brevard County. The party takes place at the Barrier Island Center, located at 8385 S. Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach. It will include heavy hors d'oeuvres, refreshments, live music and a silent auction. Tickets are $20 online when purchased in advance or they will be available at the door for $35. Parking is limited, so carpooling is encouraged. Questions? Call 321-723-3556.
On Sunday, July 27, there is another opportunity to watch more turtles begin the race. This group will be leaving from the beach start gate near the Barrier Island Center at 8 a.m. Spectators are asked to arrive 30 minutes early. From 8:30 am to 9:30 am, there will be fun family-friendly activities. This event is free and open to the public, and T-shirts will be available for $20. Parking is limited here, too.
In addition to the education and research components, Tour de Turtles also raises money for additional research and conservancy efforts through sponsorships of each turtle. Several branches of The Walt Disney Company have been annual sponsors of Tour de Turtles: Disney's Animal Program, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Disney's Vero Beach Resort.
Individuals can contribute, too, by adopting a turtle and its cause. A secondary competition among the turtles on the migration marathon focuses on how much money they can raise for separate causes. A donation of $30 ($40 outside the United States) to the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) comes with a personalized adoption certificate, a logo decal, a colorful magnet, STC's Sea Turtle Conservation Guide and a one-year subscription to the Velador, STC's newsletter.
If you can't make it to either of the launches, you still can follow the race at tourdeturtles.org beginning Aug. 1. Updates also will be posted on Twitter @conserveturtles and Facebook at www.facebook.com/conserveturtles.
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