Valencia Beckwith just received an IDEA grant to continue her studies on sea turtles and microplastic. CONGRATULATIONS!
Sea turtle eggs are at risk of inundation and erosion throughout their incubation. Inundation reduces gas exchange necessary for proper embryonic development with prolonged exposure resulting in mortality. Management actions such as nest relocation may reduce this threat; however, they are often undertaken with incomplete information (e.g., tolerance of sea turtle embryos to inundation, and knowledge of the environmental differences between the original and final nest locations). Despite the need to understand the risk of sea turtle nest inundation, few studies measure inundation directly, and those that have, used PVC-based equipment with limited sampling resolution and measurement precision. To improve in situ inundation monitoring, we tested the use of electronic water level loggers (HOBO U20L-04) at loggerhead sea turtle nests, and compared costs, benefits, and limitations of this equipment to the PVC devices used in previous research. The HOBO loggers demonstrated >90% correlation with the PVC inundation devices in inundation frequency for both experimental sites and incubating nests. PVC devices tended to overestimate inundation duration (24.7 ± 5.0 h SE) and underestimate inundation severity (14.6% ± 6.6% SE) compared to the HOBO loggers. The greater temporal resolution and measurement precision of the HOBO logger provided higher quality data pertaining to inundation stress in the nests during inundation events over the PVC devices. Small-scale studies of inundation tolerance and other physiological responses to inundation would benefit from this improved data quality; however, the cost of each unit and associated software and hardware may be prohibitive for some monitoring programs. The PVC devices are low cost and simple to mass-produce, lending their use for large-scale monitoring efforts to better inform relocation decisions and productivity assessments.
Full citation: Ware M, and Fuentes, M. M. P. B. (2018). A comparison of methods used to monitor groundwater inundation of sea turtle nests. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 503, 1-7
Interested in being a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Lab, have a look at this opportunity - Provost Postdoctoral Fellowship Program
Who is Eligible?
If interested please contact Dr. Fuentes directly - applications are due on the 28th February
We will be at the Southeast Regional Sea Turtle meeting, come and check our work:
14th feb -
Natalie Montero - 10:45am - EFFECTS OF LOCAL CLIMATE AND NESTING ENVIRONMENT ON CARETTA CARETTA HATCHLING OUTPUT
Kristen Sella - 1:56pm - EXPOSURE OF MARINE TURTLE NESTING GROUNDS TO COASTAL
CONSTRUCTION: IMPLICATIONS FOR MANAGEMENT
Natalie Wildermann - 9:15am - ASSESSING THE EFFECT OF RECREATIONAL SCALLOP HARVEST ON THE DISTRIBUTION AND BEHAVIOR OF FORAGING MARINE TURTLES
Valencia Beckwith - 1:43pm - MICROPLASTIC POLLUTION AT NEST
ING GROUNDS FOR THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO LOGGERHEAD RECOVERY UNIT
Matthew Ware - 4:35pm - USE OF HIGH RESOLUTION GROUND WATER DATA TO ASSESS
INUNDATION STRESS ON SEA TURTLE EMBRYOS
Sam Garrison - ANTHROPOGENIC MARINE DEBRIS AT NESTING GROUNDS USED BY
THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO LOGGERHEAD RECOVERY UNIT
Alexandra Lee - IN THE EYE OF THE STORM: EXPOSURE OF SEA TURTLE NESTING TO
NAMED WEATHER SYSTEMS IN THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO
Check out the new book on Florida's Climate: Changes, Variations, & Impacts
This book provides a thorough review of the current state of research on Florida's climate, including physical climate benchmarks; climate prediction, projection, and attribution; and the impacts of climate and climate change on the people and natural resources of Florida. This volume offers accessible, accurate information for students, policymakers, and the general public.
Dr. Fuentes and Natalie Montero, together with other co-authors contributed to Chapter 12 on impacts on Florida's biodiversity and ecology.
Copies can be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1979091048 and more information can be found at https://floridaclimateinstitute.org/resources/florida-climate-book
NEW PAPER: Evaluating the threat of IUU fishing to sea turtles in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia using expert elicitation
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a pervasive issue that affects economic, social, regulatory and environmental systems in all ocean basins. Research on the ecological impacts of IUU fishing has been relatively underrepresented, with minimal investigation into how IUU fishing may negatively affect populations of marine megafauna, such as sea turtles. To address this knowledge gap and identify priority areas for future research and management, we evaluated IUU fishing as a threat to a marine megafauna species group (sea turtles) in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia region (IOSEA). We designed and distributed an online survey to experts in the fields of sea turtle research, marine conservation, fisheries management, consulting and NGOs throughout IOSEA. Our results reveal that IUU fishing is likely to have potentially significant impacts on sea turtle populations in IOSEA through targeted exploitation and international wildlife trafficking. Addressing domestic IUU fishing needs to be actioned as a high priority within the study area, as does the issue of patrolling maritime borders to deter illegal cross-border transhipment. There is a demonstrable need to strengthen MCS and employ regional coordination to help build capacity in less-developed nations. Future research requirements include evaluating IUU fishing as a threat to sea turtles and other threatened marine species at multiple scales, further investigation into market forces throughout IOSEA, and examination of potential barriers to implementing management solutions. We advocate for introducing sea turtle-specific measures into IUU fishing mitigation strategies to help maximize the opportunity for positive outcomes in creating healthy ecosystems and stable communities.
Riskas, K. A., Tobin, R., Fuentes, M. M. P. B., Hamann, M. (2018). Using expert opinion to evaluate the threat of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to sea turtles: a case study in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. Biological Conservation. 217, 232-239
NEW PAPER: Sex ratio estimates for species with temperature-dependent sex determination differ according to the proxy used
Knowledge of the sex ratio of a population is crucial to understand their structure and dynamics. For species, such as marine turtles, with temperature-dependent sex determination, this knowledge provides a baseline in advance of climate change. Determining the primary sex ratio for marine turtle populations is challenging since offspring lack sexually dimorphic external characteristics. Therefore several proxies have been used to estimate the primary sex ratio of marine turtle populations. However, no study to date has compared estimations of sex ratio when using different proxies to determine the most accurate and to detect potential bias. To address this, we estimated the sex ratio of natural loggerhead, Caretta caretta, nests using 8 different proxies: two based on constant temperature equivalent (average of temperature or average temperature weighted by the growth of embryos during each time step) both for three developmental periods (the whole incubation, the middle third of incubation and the middle third of development) as well as two proxies based on incubation duration (duration of the whole incubation and of the middle third of development). Sex ratio estimates differed greatly depending on the proxy being used. Here we discuss the differences among proxies based on the biological relevance of underlying hypotheses and highlight the need for studies to accurately determine the thermosensitive period and to obtain appropriate estimates of embryo growth rate to estimate marine turtle sex ratio.
Full Reference: Fuentes, M. M. P. B., Monsinhon, J., Lopez, M., Lara, P., Santos, A., Marcovaldi, M. A. G., & Girondot, M. (2017). Sex ratio estimates for species with temperature-dependent sex determination differ according to the proxy used. Ecological Modelling. 365, 55-67
This summer, Florida State University (FSU), the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission / Research Institute (FWC/FWRI) collaborated to form a sea turtle internship at T.H. Stone Memorial Saint Joseph Peninsula State Park. The goal of this internship was to assist park staff with sea turtle patrol at a more remote, dynamic, and less developed area of the park, the Wildrness Preserve. The four FSU interns included undergraduates Sophia Fonseca, Emma Guss, Elizabeth Thomas, and John Zito. Graduate student Natalie Montero is conducting her research at the park and acted as the on-site supervisor for the internship. These students are a part of the Marine Turtle Research, Ecology, and Conservation Group, which is led by FSU Professor Dr. Mariana Fuentes.
An average day began hours before the sun rose, arriving at the park at around 5:30am every day. They drove a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) to the tip of St. Joseph’s Peninsula, dropping off half the group to the start of Section A, and the other half driving to the beginning of Section B. The unpredictable amount of erosion occurring on the peninsula this time of year allows for the UTV to be ridden on the inland trail only and not the beach. The group walked almost five miles of beach each day, which totaled over 1300 miles combined for the summer.
Every morning’s main objective was to find sea turtle crawls and determine whether a nest had been laid. This was completed on FWC sea turtle crawl data sheets and entered in a notebook and spreadsheet containing the entire season’s crawls. If a crawl was identified to be a nest, it was surrounded by three wooden stakes, one of which had a yellow nesting sign attached to it. Other data collected included date, species of sea turtle, and location pertaining to high tide line as well as latitude and longitude.
Natalie Montero is researching the effects of local climate and nest environment on hatchlings and used select nests at St. Joseph for her studies. This included locating the egg clutch, depositing a temperature logger into the nest, collecting a sand sample from the surface of the nest, and increasing protection of the turtle nest with the addition of a self-releasing screen. She is also conducting this study at St. George Island State Park to compare how nests laid and hatchlings born at these two locations may differ.
The total amount of beach covered by the group lent itself to 96 sea turtle nests, 89 of which were loggerhead sea turtle nests and seven were green sea turtle nests. Unfortunately, this park experiences high predation by nonnative coyotes and native ghost crabs. After the completion of the internship, 66% of all nests monitored had been predated by coyotes, ghost crabs, or both. However, the group is keeping their hopes up for the untouched nests!
How are loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings influenced by local climate and nest environment? - By Natalie Montero
Sand dunes 50 feet tall. A river of sea oats flowing in the wind. Mounds of sand with baby sea turtles developing underneath. This is what my summer looked like while on a mission to find out how loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings are influenced by local climate and their nest environment. My project took place at St. George Island State Park and St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, both of which are on the coast of the Florida Panhandle. Although they are only an hour a part, these beaches have quite a few differences. Compared to St. Joseph, St. George Island State Park has darker sand, less erosion, and fewer loggerhead sea turtle nests. These differences have already affected the sea turtles and the season isn’t over! So far, the incubation period at St. George has been shorter by about a week and more nests have washed away by storms (big and small) at St. Joseph due to how dynamic the beach is.
How did I accomplish my field work? St. George has an existing weather station, but St. Joseph did not. Therefore, I deployed one to monitor the air temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind speed and direction, and soil moisture. These weather stations allowed me to record the local climate. To gather information on the nest environment, I recorded how close the nest was to the high tide and vegetation, I collected a sand sample to measure thermal properties of the surface sand for each nest, and I deployed a temperature logger about the size and shape of a watch battery. Each morning, I would identify a loggerhead sea turtle nest, locate the clutch of eggs, carefully remove half of the eggs, deploy my temperature logger, and gently put the eggs and sand back how I found it. I managed to deploy temperature loggers into 31% of nests at St. Joseph and 21% of nests at St. George. This brings me to a total of 51 nests! Before classes started back up, I managed to complete an inventory of some of these nests at both locations. An inventory is when you open a nest after hatchlings have emerged to count how many eggs hatched (hatching success) and how many babies that hatched made it out of the nest (emergence rate). These are exciting because sometimes you see a hatchling still alive that struggled to make it out with its siblings or there are some unhatched eggs that have various stages of the embryo inside that stopped developing. I’m looking forward to returning to both parks periodically to continue gathering this information as well as my temperature loggers and weather data.
This work could not have been done without the help of the Sea Turtle Grants Program and the always helpful staff at both state parks. The Sea Turtle Grants Program (www.helpingseaturtles.org) is funded by the money used by individuals to purchase sea turtle license plates in Florida. Receiving this grant allowed me to purchase the weather station I deployed in St. Joseph, the GPS I used to record the location of my nests, and the temperature loggers I placed within the nests
There are many words that come to mind when I reflect on my fieldwork experience this summer with the Marine Turtle Research, Ecology, and Conservation Group at Florida State University; including, but not limited to, the following: rewarding, exhausting, learning, connecting, and unforgettable.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first arrived at St. George Island. I was told that we would be walking a lot and our feet would hurt, and I hoped that I wouldn’t get too tired. I arrived early in the day to collect data on coastal construction with Kristen, a graduate student. We began walking the stretch of beach at the state park, and a few minutes later I saw my first ever loggerhead tracks. Kristen explained which tracks were from the turtle heading up the beach and which were from her heading back to the ocean. The nest had already been marked, probably that morning. I was excited and hoped to see a turtle leave its tracks first-hand that night.
After walking around 10 miles on the beach for around 4 hours, and having not eaten anything that day, I began to feel very exhausted. I went to the house to rest and hoped that I had what it would take to do that amount of walking each night for the next 10 nights. I was given that night off to rest and prepare for the next night.
On my first night of surveying, I saw my first nesting turtle. I had only seen live sea turtles twice before, and both times they were hatchlings. The first time was in Ft. Lauderdale - on a nighttime beach walk with my family we happened to see a couple of hatchlings making their way into the ocean. The second time was on Panama City Beach on a nighttime turtle walk – after a while looking for hatchlings but striking out, we were making our way back to the house we were staying in when we witnessed volunteers releasing dozens of hatchlings from buckets and coolers. (They had hatched in the middle of the day on a crowded beach.)
But this was the first time I had seen an adult female sea turtle in person. From a distance, she looked like turtles I had seen in videos. But when I got closer, I saw her eyes, heard her breathing, and felt her determination. Her movements were so methodical. I watched Anthony, the graduate student I was with, hurry to get all of the data on her. I wanted to help, but couldn’t do much yet, as this was my first time seeing how to take all of the measurements, etc. When we were done, we watched her make her way back and slowly disappear beneath the crashing waves.
One of my favorite parts of this trip was connecting with the people I was working with. We had different people coming and going, from different parts of the country and the world, such as South Africa, Venezuela, and France. Being in groups with different people each night, we had plenty of time (about 6 hours) while walking to talk and get to know each other. I especially enjoyed discussing culture and language with some of the people from other countries; I was able to practice my Spanish with Hector and even learn a little French with the help of Jonathon. Sometimes there was singing, and when we would pause to take a break, we all would take in the sound of the waves crashing, the feel of the night air, and the beauty of the moon.
Georgina is the name I gave to the first turtle I tagged, after St. George Island. Hector told me I needed to do it fuerte, and that I had to name her and remember her flipper tag numbers (MML208 and MML209).
While collecting data for my study on human impacts on nesting sea turtles, we recorded data on all of the people we saw at night on the beach – most of their activity was early on our nightly patrol (9 PM – midnight). Some of them talked to us about what we were doing, and something that I noticed was that a lot of them seemed to care about the sea turtles and not want to disturb them, but many of them had no idea that bright white lights can discourage them. We even spoke with a family who had seen a female crawl up the beach, taken flash photographs of her, and then wondered why she turned around and returned to the ocean without nesting. This is a reason why more advertising against white lights on the beach is needed.
There are many aspects of this trip that I will remember, from sore feet, falling asleep in the car on the way back to the house at 4 AM (I wasn’t driving!), dancing on the porch, family-style dinners, bioluminescence, temporary tattoos, drinking lots of Gatorade, learning a lot, drinking coffee at 9 PM, trying to dodge the waves from hitting our feet, singing on the beach, to getting a flipper-full of sand in the face by a turtle (unintentionally, of course). But one of my fondest was when I was tasked with calming down the turtle and getting her to stop moving around so that data could be collected. I got in front of her and covered her eyes, pet her shell and saw the glow of bioluminescence. I even spoke to her, hoping to calm her down, saying things like “shh, it’s okay, that’s alright, you’re doing great.” She let out a great sigh and rested for a minute while I was next to her and I felt her exhaustion. I didn’t know I could relate so much to a turtle. We stayed there for a minute and breathed together, and from then on I was called, by some of my fellow researchers, the turtle whisperer.