New Paper: Conservation Interventions to Reduce Vessel Strikes on Sea Turtles

HOT OFF THE PRESS! The lab’s latest paper “Conservation interventions to reduce vessel strikes on sea turtles: A case study in Florida” is now available in the journal ‘Marine Policy’! It’s free to download for the next 50 days (until 28 April) at https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1ciU%7E,714MjKTy.

Vessel strikes are a significant threat to sea turtles as impacts with any part of the hull, motor, or propeller can result in serious injury or death for the animal – as well as costly damage to the boat. Given that sea turtles and boaters prefer to occupy similar nearshore locations, there is an unfortunately probability of sea turtle-vessel interactions.

To begin addressing this issue, the Florida State University (FSU) Marine Turtle Research, Ecology, and Conservation Group along with the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) convened a panel of experts to identify possible conservation interventions. These experts came from the sea turtle and marine mammal communities, including managers, researchers, academics, stranding personnel, and law enforcement. After 2 days of discussion, the panel identified 4 general interventions:

  1. Education, outreach, awareness, and communication
  2. Voluntary exclusion and/or go-slow zones
  3. Regulatory exclusion and/or go-slow zones
  4. Vessel modifications

These discussions were used to develop a social survey to take to the boating community. We chose to talk to those in and around the St Lucie Inlet of Florida as this was 1 of 8 “hot spots” for sea turtle vessel strike strandings in the state. A majority of respondents believed that boating impacts wildlife (79%) and that the community would be willing to change their behavior to reduce negative impacts (61%). When given a choice between a theoretical go-slow zone, seasonal area closure, permanent area closure, or vessel actions, the use of go-slow zones was most acceptable to respondents (46%). They also indicated that there would be greater support for conservation interventions if:

  1. The interventions were voluntary, rather than regulated,
  2. Overlapped with existing manatee speed zones or other management areas, and
  3. Were accompanied by educational materials as to the need for, and effectiveness of, the chosen intervention

There is still a lot of work to do in order to bring down the incidence of vessel strikes to sea turtles (as well as other marine animals). This work is just a first step! Additional social surveys are needed at the remaining 7 “hot spots” in Florida to determine what generalities can be drawn to reduce vessel strikes statewide versus site-specific conservation interventions tailored to each “hot spot”. Once acceptable conservation interventions are identified, in-water surveys for sea turtle and vessel distribution are necessary to ensure proper placement and timing of the intervention to provide maximum efficacy. Finally, once the interventions are in place, sustained monitoring will be needed to determine its success or identify any necessary alterations. In particular, lessons learned from the past few decades of marine mammal-vessel strike reduction interventions should be a great stepping stone for sea turtle conservation!

This work was funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (Grant #0104.18.058891) with appropriate ethics approvals from both FSU and UNBC. Logistical support was provided by FSU and the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS). A deep debt of gratitude is owed to Dr. Elizabeth Bevan for her assistance with the workshop and Alexa Putillo, Taylor Fant, Kelly Soluri, Trevor Hope, Camille Kynoch, Abbey Townsend, Bridget Kinsley, and Dr. Hector Barrios-Garrido for their help related to the social surveys.

Published by Ware Research

I'm a coastal ecologist with a PhD in Biological Oceanography from Florida State University in the Marine Sea Turtle Research, Ecology, and Conservation Group (FSU MTRECG), as well as a PADI Master SCUBA Diver Trainer. My current research with sea turtles in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, past research with coral reef restoration, and diving background have taken me all over the world - which is a mixed blessing with my photography hobby! Enjoy the posts on this site, check in often to stay up-to-date on my research, and please email me (mw15w@my.fsu.edu) if you have any questions about anything on this site!

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