Turtles, not Turdles

May 13, 2024
Ocean Sewage Alliance
Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy, Steering Committee Chair

From my childhood fishing trips to sailing on Lake Erie, my father taught me to spot signs of water quality. Now, I see the same issues he warned about—sewage pollution everywhere. This World Turtle Day, let's take action to protect our waters from these threats.

Read time: 1.5 minutes

From my earliest days on or near any body of water, my father, a science teacher for 40+ years in the classroom (and many more cumulative years on every family adventure), would often point out the signs of good and bad water quality.

I remember some specific moments seared into my memory on small lakes while fishing and on our sailboat in Lake Erie. But there were many, many others over the years on or near the ocean, rivers and lakes. His guidance has served me well, much to the chagrin of my own children and others around me, as I regularly identify the not-so-rare species of “turdles” in various bodies of water.

  • Turtles, order Testudines, (/tɛˈstjuːdɪniːz/  teh-STEW-din-eez)
  • Turdles, order Tespudines, sometimes Tespoodines, (/tɛˈspiuːdɪniːz/  teh-SPOO-din-eez)

That’s right, there are still far too many places in the United States and around the world where sanitation (septic and sewer systems, or the lack thereof) from houses, businesses, ships, and more, discharge these very not-endangered turdles into the wild. Headlines from the rivers and streams in the UK to the shores and beaches of California and Lake Michigan do not always rise above the fold. And for most people, sewage pollution in its myriad forms seems so distant and invisible.

An obvious sign of sewage pollution is sewage litter, like personal care or sanitary items. Smells, bubbles, an orange color, and an oily black or rainbow sheen are other indicators for sewage and wastewater pollution. Some studies have shown that cloudier water tended to have more sewer bacteria. © vetaco via canva.com

I cannot tell you the number of everyday residents, city officials, planners, and even global water and ocean leaders who act bewildered and untrusting when I drop the statistics on under-treated sewage and combined sewer overflows entering our waterways. Harmful impacts are seen from source-to-sea and its cascading effects on fisheries, tourism, climate, and broader human and planetary health.  Don’t get me started on micro/nano plastics, microfibers, forever chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides. The turdles are bad enough.

Eliminating turdles, as part of the sewage and wastewater crisis, threatening human and environmental health, is at the heart of the Ocean Sewage Alliance’s mission.

It's time to act when key species, such as corals, seagrass, turtles, frogs, bees, and birds (both on land and in water), are consistently threatened by sewage and wastewater. This urgency is heightened as human and public health dangers grow and collide with shocks and stresses like floods, storms, plastics, and forever chemicals.

Five green sea turtles swimming through murky waters off the coast of Oahu, Hawai'i. There are approximately 88,000 cesspools in the State, with nearly 50,000 located on the Big Island, 14,000 on Kauai, 12,000 on Maui, 11,000 on Oahu, and over 1,400 on Molokai. © puuikibeach/CC BY 2.0 DEED

This year on World Turtle Day, please join Ocean Sewage Alliance and our partners in supporting policies and regulations that demand eliminating sewage and wastewater from our ocean, rivers, and lakes.

 Make the choice for turtles, not turdles. Sign The Dirty Protest.


Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy is the Steering Committee Chair for the Ocean Sewage Alliance and previously served as the interim executive director. Stewart is the Managing Director for the World Ocean Council and co-founder/ocean lead for Okhtapus, the global replication and financing platform, focused on coastal resilience, blue economy, and bluesolutions for planetary health.

Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy