Category Archives: Research


Help STC Raise $50,000 on Giving Tuesday November 27th!

STC’s Rick Herren holds a juvenile green turtle caught and released as part of STC’s In-Water Research Project.

On November 27th, Sea Turtle Conservancy is participating in our 6th annual Giving Tuesday to raise $50,000 for our new In-Water Research Project!

Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, and is a day of charitable giving around the world. Giving Tuesday provides one day to make a HUGE difference! For the past five years, STC has been very fortunate to receive incredible support from our friends and donors. Last Giving Tuesday, STC supporters raised $40,000 to support our Tour de Turtles educational program! In 2016, you helped raise nearly $40,000 to launch the Florida In-Water Turtle Research Project.

STC asks for your help once again this year to support the ongoing work of our new In-Water Research Project. This project was able to get started this past summer with the help of your donations from two years ago. The funds raised this year will allow the program to operate through all of 2019. The state of Florida and its waters are among the most important in the world for sea turtle survival. The near shore waters are especially important to young sea turtles and their healthy growth. Juvenile turtles come from nesting beaches around the Caribbean and Atlantic to grow up in Florida’s warm waters. The majority of sea turtle research is conducted when turtles come to the beach to nest, however, they spend over 99% of their time in the ocean! The In-Water Project, based out of Cedar Key, Florida, seeks to study sea turtles in their natural habitat, the ocean.

Help STC support the Florida In-Water Turtle Research Project’s operating expenses and sea turtle tagging by donating to the cause in one of four ways:

  1. Online at www.conserveturtles.org/GivingTuesday
  2. Through STC’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/conserveturtles
  3. Calling the STC office at 352-373-6441
  4. Mail a check with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line. All checks received with Giving Tuesday in the subject line will count towards the campaign, even if received after November 27, 2018. Please make checks out to Sea Turtle Conservancy and mail to 4424 NW 13th St. Suite B-11, Gainesville, FL 32609.

STC’s new research boat, funded in part by 2016’s Giving Tuesday campaign.

Funds raised during this campaign will be matched by STC’s Board of Directors, up to a maximum of $25,000! Help turn $25,000 into $50,000 for sea turtle research!

Can we count you in for #GivingTuesday? Be sure to follow our Facebook and Twitter for LIVE fundraising updates on Giving Tuesday!

STC Announces New Scientific Director

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) announces a change in the scientific oversight of its international sea turtle research and monitoring programs. Effective in July, the position of Scientific Director will transition from Dr. Emma Harrison to Dr. Roldán Valverde. Anyone interested in collaborating with STC on research projects in Costa Rica, Panama and other international sites are encouraged to reach out directly to Dr. Valverde at roldan@conserveturtles.org. Likewise, anyone interested in exploring opportunities to serve as a Research Assistant with the Tortuguero program or at STC’s project sites in Panama can now direct those inquires to Roldán.

Dr. Harrison with nesting turtle

While STC is very excited about what Dr. Valverde will bring to this position, the organization is equally sad to announce the departure of Dr. Emma Harrison, who has resigned to explore new opportunities in the field of biological conservation. Dr. Harrison has worked with STC off and on since 1998 and has served as Scientific Director since 2006. Through her leadership and passion, Dr. Harrison continued a long tradition of outstanding scientific oversight of STC’s sea turtle monitoring programs; she trained and inspired countless research assistants and helped expand STC’s education and community outreach programs in both Costa Rica and Panama. Emma will be greatly missed by STC, though she will forever remain a part of the STC family and the history of the organization.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0094.

New STC scientific director Dr. Valverde with tagged leatherback

As STC’s incoming Scientific Director, Dr. Valverde will provide scientific oversight of STC’s various sea turtle research programs, particularly the long-term projects in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, and Bocas del Toro, Panama. Over two decades ago, as a young Costa Rican biologist, Roldán served as Research Coordinator of STC’s Tortuguero research program. Since that time, he has achieved international recognition in the field of sea turtle research and is a leading expert in the area of sea turtle physiology. Dr. Valverde served recently as President of the International Sea Turtle Society; he is well published; and he currently serves as a graduate biology professor at Southeast Louisiana University in New Orleans.  As a native Costa Rican and an accomplished scientist and educator, Roldán will be in an ideal position to continue elevating the science and the effectiveness of STC’s many research and conservation programs. He also will help STC expand its efforts to cultivate and train young biologists from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr. Valverde’s position with STC is endowed by the Emily T. Clay Scientific Director’s Endowment.

Bermuda green sea turtle “Kirsty” surprises researchers

Kirsty, a juvenile green turtle tracked by satellite as part of the collaborative Bermuda Turtle Project (BTP), has flown the coop! After being fitted with a satellite transmitter and released in Bermuda in August 2014, Kirsty’s movements and habitat use were carefully tracked by BTP researchers Drs. Anne and Peter Meylan and Robert Hardy, with scores of STC members and supporters following the turtle’s movements online.

Kirsty, a juvenile green sea turtle being tracked by satellite as part of the Bermuda Turtle Project (BTP)

Kirsty, a juvenile green sea turtle being tracked by satellite as part of the Bermuda Turtle Project (BTP)

For months, the young turtle shuttled between positions in the nearshore sea grass beds of Somerset Long Bay, where it was originally tagged, and two locations located on the west side of the Bermuda Platform. But then Kirsty did something exciting!

STC and its BTP partners learned decades ago that Bermuda’s near-shore waters provide important developmental habitat for green turtles that originate from all over the Caribbean and Atlantic. No regular nesting of green turtles occurs anymore in Bermuda, yet its waters are filled with thousands of young green turtles that arrive when they are roughly the size of a Frisbee and leave the island shortly before reaching full adulthood.

When and how they leave Bermuda, and where they go, are important mysteries in the life cycle of green turtles. In an attempt to answer these questions, STC and its partners use satellite transmitters to track some of the larger green turtles captured each year as part of the in-water monitoring program.

On June 2, 2015, with researchers watching closely, Kirsty left the Bermuda Platform and began a long migration toward what will become her adult foraging grounds. Unfortunately, Kirsty’s transmitter quit sending signals just a week into her migration, though she appeared to be headed toward known foraging grounds off the south Florida coast.

A map of Kirsty's migration provided by her satellite transmitter

A map of Kirsty’s migration provided by her satellite transmitter

Kirsty was a big turtle (66.7 cm “Straight Carapace Length”) when measured last August, so it was not entirely unexpected that she might soon leave Bermuda. However, with scores of turtles having been tracked in Bermuda, only one other green turtle was observed by BTP researchers leaving the island.

“It was very exciting to track the start of Kirsty’s important habitat transition,” said STC Executive Director David Godfrey, “but for now her ultimate destination will remain a mystery.”

The BTP was initiated in 1968 by former STC Board Member Dr. H. Clay Frick II, in cooperation with the Bermuda Government. Since 1991, the project has been a collaborative effort of STC, the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoological Society and Drs. Peter and Anne Meylan. The research efforts of the BTP Project are focused on filling in the information gaps on green turtle biology so that successful protection may be given to these amazing animals.

Kirsty after being outfitted with a satellite transmitter

Kirsty after being outfitted with a satellite transmitter

In addition to annual research, every year since 1996 the BTP has offered an international in-water course on sea turtle biology and conservation. It brings students and scientists from around the world to Bermuda to study the pelagic and juvenile phases of the marine turtle life cycle, turtle biology and conservation through observation of the animals in their marine habitat, necropsies, and a capture-tag-release study.

This year’s course, to be held in August, will be led in part by STC Scientific Director Dr. Emma Harrison. This summer, STC also will host a group of Board members and donors on an exploratory trip to observe and participate in the Bermuda turtle research program.

Tour de Turtles 2014: And the Winner is….

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 2014 TOUR de TURTLES MARATHON WINNER, LEATHERBACK PANAMA JACK AND HER SPONSORS AT TURTLE & HUGHES, INC!

TdT Marathon Winner Panama Jack

TdT Marathon Winner Panama Jack

There was no shortage of excitement in this year’s Tour de Turtles (TdT) marathon! This was the seventh consecutive year that Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) followed the migration of 11 sea turtles as part of the TdT and we are continually amazed by the unending support and enthusiasm shown for our turtle “competitors!”

Melba2014-07-27 061-XLThe 2014 TdT included live turtle releases in Panama, Costa Rica, Nevis and Florida. This year was the first time that a rehabilitated loggerhead turtle competed in the TdT. ‘Pine Tyme‘, an 80 pound sub-adult loggerhead, was spotted struggling on the surface unable to dive and was brought to The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL for treatment. She was released from Sombrero Beach, The Florida Keys and marked STC’s first ever release in the Florida Keys.

Before releasing each turtle, STC scientists attached a satellite transmitter to their shell using turtle-safe epoxy or fiberglass resin. The transmitters allowed STC and the public to track the turtles as they migrated from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. After three months of friendly competition, we have our winners, along with “updates from the field” from the turtle competitors!

TDT Leaderboard FINAL

Distance Race:
WINNER – Panama Jack, 3936 km, Team Turtle & Hughes, Inc.
2nd – Calypso Blue III, 2685 km, Team Atlantis Resort
3rd – Esperanza, 1679 km, Team Treadright & Contiki Holidays
4th – Estrella, 1549 km, Team Sea Turtle Conservancy
5th – Elsa, 1445 km Team Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
6th – Melba, 1226 km, Team Turtle Tag www.helpingseaturtles.org
7th – Shelley, 761 km Team Ripley’s Aquariums
8th – Pine Tyme, 684 km Team Turtle Hospital
9th – Anna, 672 km, Team Disney’s Vero Beach Resort & Disney’s Animal Programs
10th – Coco, 593 km & 
11th – Sugar, 517 km, both Team Four Seasons Resort Nevis

People's Choice WINNER

 

People’s Choice Award: 

WINNER – Calypso Blue III
2nd – Shelley
3rd – (TIE) Esperanza and Panama Jack
5th – Pine Tyme
6th – Elsa
7th – Coco
8th – Estrella
9th – Anna

 

Updates from our competitors:

1ST PLACE – PANAMA JACK
Species: Leatherback
Release site: Punta Rincon Beach, Panama
Sponsor: Turtle & Hughes, Inc.
Distance traveled: 3936 km.
Update from the Field: Hey everyone, Panama Jack here! Good golly, I just can’t believe I won the Tour de Turtles! I was just splishing and splashing all over the place trying to spread the word about the importance of sea turtle friendly lighting. After I left Punta Rincon Beach in Panama, I made my way over to Mexico, where I heard there were lots of yummy jellyfish for me to snack on! As you can see, I’m a pretty big girl so it’s important that I eat lots and lots of jellyfish to maintain all this energy! Now that the marathon is over, I think I’ll just hang out in the Gulf of Mexico enjoying a nice, belly-filling buffet! Thanks for cheering me on!

P1000449 - Copy2ND PLACE – CALYPSO BLUE III
Species: Leatherback
Release site: Soropta Beach, Panama
Sponsor: Atlantis
Distance traveled: 2685 km.
Update from the field: Calypso Blue III checking in! Phew, I’ve already swam over a thousand miles but I’m not stopping anytime soon! I spent most of the marathon cruising through the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. I even managed to stop by Bourbon Street in New Orleans to have some fun! Throughout my travels, I’ve been telling all my marine friends about how excited I am to have my migration tracked and swim for the cause of commercial trawl fisheries. Louisiana is the largest producer of shrimp in the U.S. which means there are tons of shrimp nets in this very area. Unfortunately, Louisiana hasn’t fully enforced the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on their nets. I had to get stern with a couple of fishermen but quickly befriended some that agreed to compromise with me! I think I’m going to head out of the area now just to be safe… Thanks to my friends at Atlantis for always having my shell!

3RD PLACE – ESPERANZAEsperanza2
Species: Green
Release site: Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Sponsor: Contiki Holidays & TreadRight Foundation
Cause: Egg Harvest for Consumption
Distance Traveled: 1679 km.
Update from the Field: Hola, mis amigos! Esperanza’s back to check in with my loyal fans and give a shout out to my sponsors at Contiki and TreadRight Foundation. Without their help and the support of my fans, there’s no way I would’ve found the speed to swim all the way up the ranks from 7th place to 3rd place! Afterall, don’t forget that esperanza is Spanish for hope and – against all odds -I made it onto the winners’ podium! Even though I had quite the rough start to the race with a poacher digging up my nest and stealing my eggs, my friends at STC were able to save the day and rebury my precious eggs, which just hatched in September! Thanks to everyone who cheered me on and helped raise support for the many threats my species face, especially poaching. I couldn’t have done it without you! Adios!

4TH PLACE – ESTRELLA
Species: Hawksbill
Release site: Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Sponsor: Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC)
Distance Traveled: 1549 km.
Update from the Field: Greetings, humans. Estrella here. According to my calculations, I did not swim far enough to qualify for the Tour de Turtles winner podium. Nonetheless, it’s been quite the journey! Throughout my travels, I’ve been collecting research and data off the coast of Nicaragua and what I’ve found was quite peculiar… The number of turtles that I encountered in the area was very limited. These findings may be due to the fact that it is actually legal in parts of Nicaragua to capture and consume turtles as they’re apart of the natives’ diet. Raising awareness about such issues and enforcing policies will hopefully help get my fellow turtles (and me!) off the endangered species list. Well, I’m going to kick it into high gear now and try to swim past Nicaragua… I certainly wouldn’t want to end up as someone’s dinner!

5TH PLACE – ELSAElsa-Turtle2014(15)
Release site: Disney’s Vero Beach Resort
Sponsor: Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
Distance Traveled: 1445 km.
Update from the Field: Hello there peasants! Yes, I am Elsa, named after the queen from Disney’s Frozen. I’m here to report back to my original kingdom at Disney’s Vero Beach to discuss some of the royal duties I’ve partaken in since I left my sand castle in July. My duties took me from Vero Beach to Key Largo to Cuba, and I recycled and picked up trash and other marine debris along the way. It’s only right that the Queen pays her respects to the ocean. Naturally, I ran into some issues when trying to eat dinner the other night and mistook a plastic grocery bag for a delicious jellyfish. This is a situation that could be avoided by recycling plastics and using reusable bags. Wish me luck, I’m off to conquer my next kingdom… The Bahamas!

6TH PLACE – MELBAMelba2014-07-27 064-XL
Species: Loggerhead
Release site: Melbourne Beach, FL
Sponsor: FL Sea Turtle License Plate
Distance Traveled: 1226 km.
Update from the Field: Aloha dudes and dudettes! Melba here. Because of the gnarly waves I tried to catch while swimming, I accidentally moved all the way down from 3rd place to 6th place… But the journey was absolutely tubular! I met some fellow surfer chicks along the way and took the opportunity to teach them about a totally important cause—water quality, dude! They promised me they would work together to try and prevent oil spills and urban run-off caused by fertilizers and other chemicals so that we can safely enjoy the stellar surf for years to come! But I’m off to celebrate my Tour de Turtles success with some chill loggerhead ladies… I might even buy myself one of those rad sea turtle license plates for my carapace! Catch ya on the flip side dudes!

7TH PLACE – SHELLEYShelley2014-07-27 043-XL
Species: Loggerhead
Release site: Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge
Sponsor: Ripley’s Aquariums
Distance Traveled: 761 km.
Update from the Field: Hello darlings! You all know me as Shelley, the turtle with levels of glamour that Vogue couldn’t even handle. I won’t lie, being without my glam squad and entourage these past few months was rough but I knew my migration was raising awareness about the issue of commercial longline fisheries, and that is important. I think of the ocean as my runway and plan to continue swimming through it with grace and poise. How can I do that if I have to worry about being caught up in longline fishing? Luckily, I didn’t come across any during my travels, probably because my fabulous sponsors at Ripley’s Aquariums have been cheering me on. Even though I didn’t win the race, I’m hoping there is still a chance at a tiara. Ciao, bellas!

8TH PLACE – PINE TYMEPine Tyme TdT page
Species: Loggerhead
Release site: Marathon, Florida Keys
Sponsor: The Turtle Hospital
Distance Traveled: 684 km.
Update from the Field: For a previously injured turtle, I’ve come a long way! Mostly thanks to my great friends at The Turtle Hospital. After gaining my strength back, I traveled over 400 miles from Marathon, Florida to my current location right outside the Dry Tortugas National Park. This national park is about 70 miles off the coast of Key West and was established to protect the island and marine ecosystems. I had to duck out of the way of several speeding boats along the way so now I’m just trying to steer clear of the ferries touring the place. As a rehabilitated turtle who was also the last to enter the race, I knew I couldn’t afford another setback like a boat strike so now I’m just trying to find a nice, calm place to feed. I honestly can’t even believe I made it this far when just several months ago I was gassy and floating bottom up at The Turtle Hospital! Thanks to everyone who helped cheer me on during the marathon!

9TH PLACE – ANNAAnna
Species: Loggerhead
Release site: Disney Vero Beach Resort (DVBR)
Sponsor: Disney Animal Programs & DVBR
Distance Traveled: 672 km.
Update from the Field: Hi friends, Anna here! I successfully made my way all the way down the Florida coastline and decided to spend some time in Florida Keys. Everything during the marathon went quite swimmingly, except for this one huge storm that got me a little off track last month. I ended up along the shores of Miami, which was a very interesting place indeed. One thing I noticed is that their beachfront hotels and clubs had so many bright lights on, you could probably see them from space! I knew better and wasn’t distracted by their glow but let’s just hope my friends don’t end up drawn towards the lights when they come up to nest! After my little visit to South Beach, I got worn out from signing autographs for all my Frozen fans and set off towards Key West to relax where I plan to stay. Check back with me soon!

10TH PLACE – COCOCoco TDT
Species: Hawksbill
Release Site: Pinney’s Beach, Nevis
Sponsor: Four Seasons – Nevis
Distance Traveled: 593 km.
Update from the Field: Oh, hello there. I didn’t realize this interview was going to be published. I don’t really do well with large groups. Sorry, erm… How about a little joke to break the ice? So, um, I’m on my way to St. Kitts from Nevis and I come across what I thought were some fellow hawksbills. I’m shy enough as it is so I really had to work up the nerve to approach these guys. I try to make conversation, which is rare for me, and I’m getting no reply. I start to get more nervous as their silence lengthens. Was it something I said? Do I have a piece of sponge in my teeth? Finally, I realize I’d been talking to floating coconuts the whole time… That embarrassing encounter certainly did nothing to help me get over my social anxieties. I was also hoping for a confidence boost by winning the Tour de Turtles race, but then I just got so nervous and I decided to stay close to home where I’m most comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with last place, especially since I know the great people at Four Seasons Nevis will always cheer for me, no matter what!

11TH PLACE – SUGARsugar
Species: Hawksbill
Release site: Pinney’s Beach, Nevis
Sponsor: Four Seasons – Nevis
Distance Traveled: 517 km.
Update from the Field: Hi friends! My name is Sugar and I’m the sweetest hawksbill you’ll ever meet! During the Tour de Turtles, I got some slack from a few mean turtles about my slow pace but I couldn’t help that I enjoyed the beautiful waters of the Caribbean so much! Who said there’s anything wrong about being on island time? The water near St. Kitts is especially warm, I just hope it’s not due to climate change! I promise to do some investigating while I’m here and raise awareness about this potential threat. Now excuse me while I go enjoy a deliciously sweet drink with my friends at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis to celebrate the end of Tour de Turtles!

****************************************************************************

Sea Turtle Conservancy would like to give a big THANK YOU to all of our great turtle sponsors for this year’s Tour de Turtles — Four Seasons Resort, NevisDisney’s Animal ProgramsDisney’s Worldwide Conservation FundDisney’s Vero Beach ResortTurtle & Hughes, Inc.Atlantis ResortRipley’s AquariumsContiki HolidaysThe TreadRight FoundationThe Turtle Hospital — and Florida’s Sea Turtle License Plate.

TdT BIC

Red Tide Bloom Could Affect Florida Sea Turtles

Many Floridians work tirelessly to protect sea turtles from the many threats they face on and off the nesting beach. However, a recent coastal update shows that these majestic creatures are in danger from a phenomenon mostly beyond our control: red tide.

Satellite images from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show a patchy area of red tide recently spotted in the northeast Gulf of Mexico. Red tide is a sudden increase in algae population, which often results in the sickness and death of marine life in the affected area.

Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

According to an article by the Associated Press, this specific algal bloom stretches 100 miles from St. Petersburg to Florida’s Big Bend, where the peninsula ends and the Panhandle begins. The affected area starts a few miles off the cost and is approximately 60 miles wide.

STC is no stranger to the negative impact of red tide. Last year, STC had a rehabilitated turtle named Tampa Red participate in Tour de Turtles. Sponsored by the Tampa Bay Consortium and the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Red was injured by red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.

Loggerhead Melba was recently spotted in the area of the red tide bloom.

STC is keeping a close watch on current Tour de Turtles competitors that have been spotted in the affected area. Loggerhead sea turtle Melba, now in fifth place, has been spending a lot of time off the coast of Cedar Key in the heart of the bloom.

“We should watch this closely to see if the marine animal rehabilitation facilities on the Gulf Coast of Florida begin to see a surge in strandings,” said David Godfrey, STC executive director. “There is nothing that I know of that can be done to lessen the impacts of red tide, but we could be ready with some emergency grants.”

The Sea Turtle Grant Program, which is administered by STC, has helped support facilities that have taken in sea turtles impacted by red tide in the past.

The program gave Mote Marine Laboratory a grant of over $22,000 to investigate sea turtles stranded by red tide in central west Florida in 2005.  Results of that work showed that a neurotoxin in the algae called brevetoxin appeared to be the primary cause behind the strandings of sea turtles that washed up on beaches in the area.

Photo courtesy of CTV News

The red tide bloom currently spotted off the coast of Florida stretches 100 miles. Photo courtesy of CTV News.

After expanding on that research, scientists now understand the effect of red tide on sea turtles and other marine wildlife is even more alarming.

Mote and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida teamed up during the 2012 and 2013 red tides in and around Pine Island Sound, along Florida’s southwest Gulf coast. The research aimed to understand the effects of red tide on Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, a critically endangered species.

According to an article by news-press.com, the study is the first of its kind to look at the effects of brevetoxin in living and free-swimming turtles.

Kemp's Ridley turtles are the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world

Kemp’s Ridley turtles are the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world

Blood tests were run on nine Kemp’s ridley turtles, and the results showed high levels of brevetoxin as well as a protein called alpha-globulin. Increased alpha globulin is a sign of inflammation, which means these turtles may seem healthy on the outside, but there’s something serious going on inside.

Mote’s Justin Perrault, the study’s principal investigator, told news-press that Kemp’s ridley turtles are more susceptible to this toxin than other species of marine life. The toxin is absorbed and held in the tissue of filter-feeders such as tunicates, which are a staple in the diet of a Kemp’s ridley turtle.

More information is needed on the impact of brevetoxin, how long it can stay in the turtle’s system and whether it can cause long-term side effects. Likewise, Perrault said the team is looking at how this toxin can affect the reproduction process and already fragile hatchlings.

The turtles were also tracked via satellite during the study. Data showed that the sea turtles seemed to sense the red tide’s presence and actually avoided affected areas. Perrault said that the next step will be to determine how the turtles detect the toxin.

Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Fish are easily affected by red tide blooms, which results in mass deaths. Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Red tide is negatively impacting many species of marine wildlife in Florida. According to the FWC, fish are most easily affected by red ride because their gills are directly exposed to the brevetoxin. Manatees and dolphins also feed on marine species that easily absorb the toxin, which in-turn exposes them to its harmful effects.

While the causes of red tide are not clearly understood, research is being done to develop a prediction model based on ocean currents, according to the Associated Press article.  University of South Florida ocean scientist Robert Weisberg is among a team of researchers working to develop a warning system, which will track the movement of nutrients that red tide needs to thrive. The article also said that the president is asking Congress for a $6 million increase for research in red tide prediction in the 2015 budget.

leatherback swimmingIn the meantime, you can help minimize other environmental dangers to marine wildlife by recycling plastic bags and reducing other sources of marine pollution. We depend on the health of Florida’s marine ecosystem just as the species that inhabit it do. Harming sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and fish also also impacts the overall marine environment and people that rely on these marine resources for food, recreation and other ecosystem services.

If you think a sea turtle has been affected or stranded by red tide, call the FWC’s 24-hour Wildlife Alert Number at 888-404-3922.

To subscribe to FWC’s Red Tide Alert Emails, visit https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/subscriber/new 

11 Sea Turtles Set Off on Migratory Journey as Part of 7th Annual Tour de Turtles

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) kicked off its seventh annual Tour de Turtles (TdT) with a live sea turtle release on July 27 at the Barrier Island Center, located in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne Beach, Florida.

Loggerhead Melba was released in Florida on July 27, 2014

A crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered to watch as STC researchers released two adult female loggerhead sea turtles, named ‘Shelley’ and ‘Melba,’ into the ocean to begin their migrations. ‘Shelley’ was named by her sponsors at Ripley’s Aquariums while ‘Melba‘ was named via STC’s Facebook contest. Shelley and Melba are just two of 11 sea turtles representing four different species swimming in the TdT migration marathon, an annual program that conducts valuable research and raises public awareness about sea turtles.

The 2014 TdT included live turtle releases in Panama, Costa Rica, Nevis and Florida. The final release is on August 15 at Sombrero Beach, Fla. This year is the first time that a rehabilitated loggerhead turtle is competing in the TdT. ‘Pine Tyme‘, an 80 pound sub-adult loggerhead, was spotted struggling on the surface unable to dive and is now being treated at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida. Upon recovery, Pine Tyme will be equipped with a satellite transmitter and released from Sombrero Beach, Fla. on August 15 at 1:00 p.m. This is also is STC’s first ever release in the Keys.

Green turtle Esperanza was released in Tortuguero on July 3, 2014

Green turtle Esperanza was released in Tortuguero on July 3, 2014

 

“This is the seventh year of the Tour de Turtles and we are thrilled with how the program has grown and gained popularity over the years,” said David Godfrey, executive director of STC. “More people are turning out for the live release events and logging onto the website to learn about these turtles than ever before. Not only do we have a diverse group of turtles this year, but also a very diverse group of sponsors supporting this educational program. It’s amazing to see the variety of businesses, from resorts, to lighting companies and aquariums, that come together to raise awareness for sea turtles.”

Before releasing each turtle, STC scientists attach a satellite transmitter to its shell using turtle-safe epoxy or fiberglass resin. The transmitters allow STC and the public to track the turtles as they migrate from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds. Turtle fans can follow the turtles’ migrations online at www.tourdeturtles.org, and cheer on on their favorite competitor while learning about some of the threats sea turtles face. Fans can support their favorite turtle through a virtual adoption or by making a pledge for each mile the turtle swims. The turtle who swims the farthest by October 31 will be crowned the winner of the ‘race’ while the turtle who raises the most money will be crowned the ‘People’s Choice Winner.’

Results from the 2013 Tour de Turtles. Who will win this year's race??

Results from the 2013 Tour de Turtles. Who will win this year’s race??

Some interesting facts about the 2014 Tour de Turtles:

‘Esperanza’, a green sea turtle sponsored by Contiki and the TreadRight Foundation, is swimming to raise awareness about the threat of egg harvesting for consumption. After she laid her eggs on July 3, 2014, it was discovered that her nest had been poached and her eggs stolen! Luckily, the local police were able to catch the poacher and return the eggs to STC’s team, who quickly and carefully reburied them in a new location. Hopefully we’ll see some green hatchlings erupting from Esperanza’s nest in September!

‘Sugar’, a hawksbill sponsored by Four Seasons Resort Nevis, already had flipper tags when STC found her nesting on Lovers Beach, Nevis. After looking up her tag number, STC was able to determine that she was first tagged by the Nevis Turtle Group in 2007. This was great news because it provided further evidence that sea turtles return to the same beach to nest.

‘Melba’, a loggerhead sponsored by the Sea Turtle Grants Program, ranks in the top five largest loggerheads STC has ever released! She also has one of the biggest heads, which is fitting as loggerheads get their name from their exceptionally large heads.

For a full list of turtle competitors and sponsors, visit the official website at www.tourdeturtles.org or head back to the blog tomorrow to meet all the turtles!

STC Earns 4-Star Rating for Ninth Consecutive Year

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is proud to announce its 9th consecutive top rating from Charity Navigator, the leading evaluator of non-profit groups in the United States. STC once again received 4 out of 4 stars, indicating that our organization adheres to good governance and other practices that minimize the chance of unethical activities and consistently executes our mission in a fiscally responsible way.

charity_nav_600x300

“The Board and staff of Sea Turtle Conservancy take great pride in our consistent high ratings from Charity Navigator,” said David Godfrey, STC executive director, “and it gives our donors confidence that their contributions are being managed wisely to the maximum benefit of sea turtles.”

According to Charity Navigator, only 1% of the charities they rate have received 9 consecutive 4-star evaluations, and this indicates “that Sea Turtle Conservancy outperforms most other charities in America. This ‘exceptional’ designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Sea Turtle Conservancy from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.

Photo by Ralph Pace.

 

STC spends 85 cents of every dollar donated directly on research, conservation and education programs. STC’s commitment to transparency, good governance and fiscal responsibility ensures that donations are used in an efficient manner to support conservation programs.

“STC’s coveted 4-star rating puts it in a very select group of high-performing charities,” said Ken Berger, President and CEO of Charity Navigator. “Out of the thousands of nonprofits Charity Navigator evaluates, only one out of four receives 4 stars – a rating that, now, with our new Accountability and Transparency metrics, demands even greater rigor, responsibility and commitment to openness. STC’s supporters should feel more confident that their hard-earned dollars are being used efficiently and responsibly when it acquires such a high rating.”

STC’s rating and other information about charitable giving are available free of charge on Charity Navigator.

Satellite tracking identifies risk zones for leatherback turtles

The last large populations of the leatherback turtle are at risk because their migratory routes in the Atlantic Ocean converge with the locations of industrial fisheries, a new study shows.

Photo by Tamar-Ibana

Photo by Tamar-Ibana

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is one of ten organizations that worked together to publish the study which provides insight into the complex patterns of movement by leatherback turtles in the Atlantic and their overlap and accidental capture by industrial longline fisheries for pelagic (open ocean) species such as tuna and swordfish.

Between 1995 and 2010, a total of 106 leatherback females from populations throughout the Atlantic were equipped with satellite tags and tracked over extended periods of time.  Satellite tracking data revealed that leatherbacks display complex patterns of movement in national coastal and international waters and use the waters of 46 of the 97 countries bordering the Atlantic. By overlaying the turtles’ tracks with information on fishing effort, researchers were able to identify nine areas where high risk of capture by fisheries exists, four in the North Atlantic and five in the South Atlantic. Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Technology and Research Specialist Dan Evans is a co-author on the report.

Maps of the daily locations of the turtles revealed that Atlantic leatherbacks use both deep sea international waters (more than 200 nautical miles from land) and coastal national waters, either seasonally or year-round, in a complex pattern of habitat use.

About 16,600 female leatherbacks breed in the Atlantic each year, and while some populations are doing well, accidental capture in longline and other fisheries remains an important conservation threat because fishing effort is intense. More than 4 billion hooks – equivalent to 730,000 hooks per day – were set throughout the entire Atlantic Ocean by industrial fisheries between 1995 and 2010, the study shows.

leatherback-adopt2

Leatherback turtle by Dan Evans, STC

Leatherback turtle by Dan Evans, STC

“Fewer than 1,000 females nest in Florida each year, but the coastal waters of the eastern United States represent one of the nine high risk areas for leatherbacks in the Atlantic during April – June and October – December,” said Marydele Donnelly, Director of International Policy for STC.  “The findings of this study have significant policy implications. Multinational collaboration will be needed to reduce leatherback capture through changes in fishing equipment, fishing methodology, and seasonal closures of some areas to fishing.”

leatherback-adopt2The study results from the collaborative efforts of 10 data providers that have tracked leatherback turtles in the Atlantic Ocean since 1995 through the Trans-Atlantic Leatherback Conservation Initiative (TALCIN).

The article, ‘Pan-Atlantic analysis of the overlap of a highly migratory species, the leatherback turtle, with pelagic longline fisheries,’ is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Other contributing authors on this report include: S. Fossette, Department of Biosciences at Swansea University; M.J. Witt, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter; A.C. Broderick, Center for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter; P. Miller, Center for Investigation and Marine Conservation, Uruguay; M.A. Nalovic, Virginia Institute of Marine Science; D. Albareda, Aquamarina, Del Besugo 1525, Pinamar, Buenos Aires 7167, Argentina, Jardín Zoológico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Republica de la India 3000,Buenos Aires 1425, Argentina, and Regional Program for Sea Turtles Research and Conservation of Argentina; A.P. Almeida, ICMBio–Reserva Biológica de Comboios, Linhares, Brazil; D. Chacon-Chaverri, Asociación LAST, Apdo 496-1100, Tibás, Costa Rica; M. S. Coyne, SEATURTLE.org, Durham, NC; A. Domingo, Dirección Nacional de Recursos Acuáticos, Constituyente 1497, Uruguay; S. Eckert, WIDECAST and Biology and Natural Resources Department, Principia College; A. Fallabrino, Karumbé – Av. Rivera 3245 (Zoo Villa Dolores), Uruguay; S. Ferraroli, Rue Victor Hugo, France; A. Formia, Wildlife Conservation Society; B. Giffoni, Fundação Pró-TAMAR, Rio Vermelho, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil; G. C. Hays, Department of Biosciences at Swansea University, Center for Integrative Ecology, Deakin University; G. Hughes, 183 Amber Valley, P/Bag X30, Howick 3290, South Africa; L. Kelle, WWF, French Guiana; A. Leslie, WWF International, Switzerland; M. Lopez-Mendilaharsu, Karumbé – Av. Rivera 3245 (Zoo Villa Dolores), Uruguay and Fundação Pró-TAMAR, Rio Vermelho, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil; P. Luschi, Department of Biology, University of Pisa in Italy; L. Prosdocimi, Regional Program for Sea Turtles Research and Conservation of Argentina and Laboratorio Genética de la Estructura Poblacional, Departamento de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, FCEN, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Buenos Aires, Argentina; S. Rodriguez-Heredia, Regional Program for Sea Turtles Research and Conservation in Argentina and Fundación Mundo Marino, Buenos Aires, Argentina; A. Turny, WWF French Guina; S. Verhage, WWF Gabon; B.J. Godley, Center for Ecology and Conservation University of Exeter.

Apply to be a Research Assistant with STC in Tortuguero

Sea Turtle Conservancy is currently accepting applications for sea turtle research assistants in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Research and monitoring of sea turtles in Tortuguero was initiated in the 1950’s by legendary sea turtle researcher Dr. Archie Carr. Dr. Carr continued his work in Tortuguero until his passing in 1987 and STC continues to conduct annual programs at the site, making it the longest ongoing sea turtle conservation and monitoring program in the world.

STC RAs and Eco-Volunteers excavate a nest

STC RAs and Eco-Volunteers excavate a nest (Photo by Ralph Pace)

Between eight and sixteen Research Assistants (RAs) will be trained in sea turtle monitoring techniques by, and work under the supervision of, the STC Field Research Coordinator. The RAs main responsibilities include nightly tagging, track surveys, nest monitoring and excavation. RAs are responsible for tagging nesting turtles, collecting biometric data from females, recording nesting activity during track surveys, and other pertinent data collection. RA positions are voluntary and selected RAs will receive board and lodging at the STC Field Station for the duration of their time working for STC in Tortuguero.

STC Alumni RAs have gone on to work for respected conservation organizations, universities and government agencies worldwide. Or like previous RA Ralph Pace, they continue their work with STC. Ralph was an RA in 2010 and then took on the role of STC Field Research Coordinator in 2013. Ralph is also a talented photographer. Below are some exciting details and photos from his time spent in Tortuguero with STC:

“When I took the position here as the Field Research Coordinator in Tortuguero, Costa Rica I knew fully what I was getting into. Having spent three months here as a Research Assistant for half of the green turtle season in 2010, I was well aware of the wild adventure and surprise that Tortuguero would provide. When most people hear I am working on a Caribbean beach in Costa Rica they envision a white sand beach where luxurious tiki style huts hang over crystal clear water. But, here it is far more rustic and wild. Imagine Jungle Book meets Indiana Jones.  In reality, Tortuguero is a highly dynamic beach who’s landscape changes as fast as the tide.  The beach is backed by a lush, dense jungle that is supported by the migration of sea turtles.

tortuguero beach - ralph pace

Under the clearest of Milky Way skies, we set out to patrol the beach nightly in search of three to four hundred pound nesting female turtles. We do so to collect data and monitor their epic population rebound of 500% here in Tortuguero.  Then as quickly as the turtles appear they vanish on their return to far off feeding ground around the Caribbean.

An RA measures a nesting sea turtle at night

An RA measures a nesting sea turtle at night. (Photo by Ralph Pace)

The beach becomes an expressway for millions of babies who are only just beginning their majestic journey. Just this morning during a track survey, I stood in shock as six hundred hatchlings emerged under the hardest of rains. As the baby hatchlings entered the water I couldn’t help but wonder where the offshore currents will take them. Will they go to Bermuda, Brazil or Cuba as many of our turtles do? Or, will they settle closer to home in Nicaragua? (Click here to watch an amazing video Ralph shot of green sea turtles hatching!)

tort hatchlings - ralph pace

As with all the other mysteries, I wonder, where have six months gone? Then I remember the thousands of turtles I have seen, hundreds of hours on the beach, the dozen meteor showers, the manatee I took DNA samples of, the jaguar I stood face to face with, the daily howler monkey alarm clocks at 5 am, the hundreds of kids served in the local schools and the countless friends I’ve met from around the world that have made it all so epic. So what makes this place so special?  Of the five continents I have explored, the mystique and adventure of Tortuguero is like no other place I have ever seen or imagined.”

tort turtle beach close up - ralph pace

To view more spectacular sea turtle photos by Ralph, check out his Facebook page RALFotos.

**************************************************

For more information about STC’s Research Assistant positions including a project summary and work description, click here. The deadline to apply for the Leatherback Research Program is January 7, 2014 and the Green Turtle Program deadline is March 10, 2014. For questions pertaining to STC’s Research Assistant Program, please contact STC Scientific Director Emma Harrison at emma@conserveturtles.org.

The Olive Ridley Project: Fighting Ghost Nets in the Indian Ocean

Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been discarded, abandoned or lost in the ocean, and are a major threat to sea creatures. Sometimes these nets will wash ashore but other times they are carried on ocean currents far from their place of origin, trapping and entangling anything in their path, including sea turtles. This is where the Olive Ridley Project (ORP) steps in.

ORP_BANNERS_1 GHOST NETS

Created in July 2013 by marine biologists Martin Stelfox and David Balson, the Olive Ridley Project started as an initiative to target ghost nets in the Indian Ocean. The project consists of four elements to tackle ghost nets: research, awareness, removal and recycling. Stelfox and Balson both work in the Maldives and were encountering a large number of olive ridley sea turtles entangled in ghost nets. Olive ridleys get their name from the coloring of their heart-shaped shell, which starts out gray but becomes olive green once the turtles are adults.

Olive Ridley photo by Guy Marcovaldi

Olive Ridley photo by Guy Marcovaldi

This species is particularly rare in the Maldives. High nesting populations are found close by in Orissa, India, and statistics suggest that 80% of the world’s nesting takes place here. The Maldives, however, are a critical resting point for many migratory species like sea turtles. Unfortunately, most encounters with this vulnerable sea turtle are under stressful conditions and a large portion are found entangled in discarded fishing nets. Entanglement often leads to severe injuries and flipper amputations are common. In addition, stress experienced by turtles during this ordeal leads to buoyancy problems, which means they cannot dive.

Since 2011, 65 olive ridleys have been found trapped in fishing nets. Many suffer severe injuries such as amputations and deep lacerations. Often rehabilitation back into the wild is extremely difficult and many do not survive. In the short time the Olive Ridley Project has been running, 21 olive ridley turtles have been found injured by ghost nets. It is difficult to say for certain where these nets originate and changes in current direction during monsoons add to the complexity in determining where drifting nets come from.

This olive ridley lost two front flippers and suffered from severe lacerations around its neck from ghost nets

This olive ridley lost two front flippers and suffered from severe lacerations around its neck from ghost nets

In order to combat this problem, the ORP is aiming to actively target the origin of ghost nets using information gathered from the community. In order for this project to be successful, they need information from everyone who finds nets while conducting research or diving in the Indian Ocean or a net that has washed ashore on a beach near the Indian Ocean. A simple picture with exact location found would be enough data for them to use, but if measurements can be taken that would be even better.

Sea Turtle Grants Program Supports Lighting Education and Satellite-Tracking Research

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has received three grants awarded by Florida’s Sea Turtle Grants Program to support sea turtle-friendly lighting education and loggerhead migratory research.

Two of the grants focus on educating coastal residents in Florida about the impacts of beachfront lights to nesting females and sea turtle hatchlings and offering options for converting existing lights to amber LED fixtures that minimize impacts to sea turtles.

“It is important for people to see turtle-friendly lighting first-hand,” STC’s lighting specialist Karen Shudes said. “There are several myths about sea turtle-friendly lighting not being safe enough or bright enough, but these are simply not true.”

Artificial lights are a major threat to nesting sea turtles and hatchlings because 78% of Florida’s housing is located in coastal communities. These grants will help STC educate the public on the importance of making sure beachfront homes have the right type of lights to ensure safety for people and sea turtles.

The third grant is studying the migratory routes and foraging grounds used by loggerhead turtles from the Archie Carr Refuge in Melbourne Beach. The goal is to reveal important information about the turtles’ migratory behavior, foraging grounds, and the areas of potential conflict with commercial fisheries or legal harvest of sea turtles.

Currently, there are four turtles being tracked in this research study. Two turtles went to areas that STC had not observed before in the waters off Florida’s Panhandle and to the Yucatan Peninsula.

These grants are supporting critical programs that are increasing knowledge about sea turtles and providing solutions to ensure their survival. The grants were made possible by the sale of the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, which funds Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Program and the Sea Turtle Grants Program. To learn more, visit www.helpingseaturtles.org.

Sea Turtle Conservation

Today’s blog post about working with sea turtles in Costa Rica is by Brian Drozd, a program officer at the U.S. Department of State. He has over 6 years of experience working for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked on grants and communications in the Climate Change Division. His Master’s degree in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development enabled him to focus on sustainable tourism and conservation.

In the summer of 2009 I spent 10 weeks working with sea turtles on the rugged coast of Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Working as a research assistant for the Sea Turtle Conservancy, I spent my time walking up and down a 5 mile stretch of beach in the middle of the night looking for green sea turtles to measure, tag, and count the number of eggs they laid. I did this only for meals and a roof over my head. Why would someone do this? Sea turtles have swum in the world’s oceans for 100 million years, and they are in danger of extinction. Threats from poaching, commercial fishing, and climate change, among others, are threatening these animals all over the world. Many people say healthy sea turtles mean healthy oceans.

There are many different species of sea turtles, but I primarily worked with green sea turtles. Some facts about these amazing animals:

  • They only lay eggs every 3-4 years, and generally come back to nest on the same beach where they were born throughout their life. One turtle we found had nested on the same beach in 1982!
  • They only lay their eggs at night, after digging a hole that can be up to 5 feet deep.
  • They only come on land to lay their eggs.
  • There are only an estimated 88,000 nesting green turtle females in the world.

The goal of my time in Tortuguero was to help the Sea Turtle Conservancy collect data to monitor the health and numbers of the sea turtle population. We also worked closely with the local people to educate them about sea turtles and help them conduct their eco-tourism business with the turtles in a safe manner.

One of the most amazing experiences as a research assistant was when we put a satellite transmitter onto a green turtle. Using a transmitter to monitor turtles we are able to learn about their feeding patterns, how long they stay under water, and much more. It is just this kind of valuable information that is helping scientists learn how to better help protect these animals.

Sea Turtles nest all over the world. Large nesting populations are found in many countries in Latin America and Africa, as well as in India, Indonesia, and China. All sea turtles are in need of protection, monitoring, and research in order to make sure they survive for future generations. There are many actions you can take to help sea turtles near your home and around the world. Some of them are: reducing pollution, not eating sea turtle meat or eggs, and protecting coastlines by slowing development and reducing light on nesting beaches. View more tips here and research just a few of the many organizations working to save turtles around the world. I had an incredible time working with sea turtles, and I’m sure you would too!

This blog was originally posted on the Global Conversations: Climate Blog )

STC Research Coordinator Writes about Her Experience Working in Tortuguero

Each nesting season, STC invites students and recent college graduates to assist with research at Tortuguero in Costa Rica. During this year’s leatherback nesting season, research assistant Maddie will be sharing her experience with STC’s members and supporters.

Meet Maddie

“¡Hola! Mi nombre es Madeleine Beange. I grew up in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. In 2009, I completed a B.S in neurobiology at McGill University. After a year of neuroscience research I got sick of killing mice.

I left my lab job to backpack Southeast Asia for a couple months. After a taste of wandering the world, I realized I needed more. Pursuing my dreams of working with sea turtles, I worked for 9 months and saved up enough money to fly to Costa Rica.

My fist experience with sea turtle conservation research was with PRETOMA, a Costa Rican NGO. From October to December 2011, I worked as a coordinator/research assistant for 3 months.

Next up is a 3 month research assistant position with Sea Turtle Conservancy. I will still be working in Costa Rica, but this time on the Caribbean side in Tortuguero.”

To read about Maddie’s adventures as a Sea Turtle Conservancy research assistant, click here for her blog, Mad About Sea Turtles.

Survey Report on Sea Turtle Habitat in the Gulf of Mexico by David Godfrey

I recently was invited to join a team of veterinarians and biologists working for NOAA and the BP oil spill Unified Command on a trip into the Gulf of Mexico to document and rescue sea turtles impacted by oil. The trip also gave me an opportunity to observe first-hand the current status of ocean-surface conditions and the availability of suitable sea turtle habitat in that region of the Gulf.

The 12-hour voyage departed from Venice, Louisiana, a small fishing community located at the southernmost point of land where the Mississippi River spills into the Gulf. Joining me on the trip were Dr. Brian Stacy, a NOAA veterinarian based at the University of Florida who has been coordinating sea turtle rescue efforts in the waters south of New Orleans and Dr. Joe Flanagan (a vet from the Houston Zoo). Also participating was Jonathan Gorham of In-water Research Group and representatives from two other conservation organizations (Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and John Hammond with the National Wildlife Federation). Our primary task was to locate and rescue any sea turtles that might have been impacted by the oil spill.

Rescue efforts such as this have been underway since shortly after the spill began, and they continue out of several port cities around the Gulf. Since the start of the disaster at the end of April, nearly 1,000 sea turtles have either stranded on Gulf Coast shores or have been recovered at sea through rescue efforts such as this.

Our trip took us about 50 miles into the Gulf, where we began to spot mats of floating sargassum weed-an important pelagic habitat for both juvenile and hatchling sea turtles. Aside from tiny pieces of plastic and other types of common marine debris mixed in with the sargassum, the habitat we encountered appeared quite healthy. In fact, the mats were teaming with fish and other important marine species such as small shrimp, crabs and other vertebrates and invertebrates that sea turtles feed upon. Over the course of the day we also spotted and recovered two juvenile Kemp’s ridleys that showed no sign of having come in contact with oil.

Considering that this very region of the Gulf was once thickly coated with oil, it seems most likely to me that the sargassum we encountered had drifted into the area, likely from the west, where it never came in contact with oil. Since the beginning of the spill, large amounts of oil-soaked sargassum have been corralled and burned by BP and its contractors. An undetermined amount of oil-soaked sargassum also has died and sunk below the surface by now. In this way, a substantial amount of important turtle habitat has been eliminated from the Gulf. However, this trip gave me great hope that sea turtles and their sargassum habitat are moving back into the region, but full recovery will take significantly longer.

My most striking memory from the trip is the complete absence of oil on the surface, despite our close proximity to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site. On one hand I found it encouraging that the habitat, at least on the surface, appeared healthy. Unfortunately, conditions on the surface don’t tell the entire story about how oil and chemicals used to disburse the spill continue to impact the wildlife and ecology of the Gulf of Mexico. For government and non-government biologists alike, this remains a major concern, and research on what is happening below the surface needs to continue.

Based on my observations on this day and in this location, the surface habitat for sea turtles appears to be recovering a lot faster than most people, including me, thought would be possible. NOAA and other personnel responding to oil-impacted sea turtles are suggesting that their efforts to recover turtles at sea will soon wind down. While in hindsight it would have been better if more boats and rescue personnel had been in place to rescue turtles at the height of the spill, I can’t find fault with agency plans to scale back now. In fact, at this point chasing little Kemp’s ridleys out of healthy habitat seems more intrusive than helpful. Other threats to sea turtles, and especially the risk posed by the reopening of shrimp trawling in Louisiana waters, where state law does not require shrimpers to use Turtle Excluder Devices, presents a more significant survival threat to both loggerheads and Kemp’s ridleys. As efforts to rescue oil-impacted sea turtles wind down, state and federal regulators need to focus on bringing Louisiana commercial fishing regulations into the 21st century, where the harvesting of shrimp is done in ways that safeguard sea turtles and other common bycatch.

David Godfrey
STC Executive Director