Identifying inundation and erosion hot-spots at sea turtle nesting beaches in the Florida Panhandle
Inundation and erosion from wave exposure, storm surge, and rises in sea level are major threats to sea turtle nests, causing localized mortality of eggs which ultimately affects the productivity at the nesting beach and population level. Nesting females use several environmental cues such as beach slope, tide height, and distance from the water to reduce the changes of inundation and erosion. However, increasing storm intensity and coastal modifications (e.g., seawalls and upland construction) can alter the beach morphology and the subsequent risk of inundation and erosion to incubating nests. Identifying high-risk areas is crucial for targeting management actions such as nest relocation, conservation easements, and others.
Nesting density for loggerhead sea turtles in the Florida Panhandle from 2011 to 2016. Data sourced from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Statewide Atlas of Sea Turtle Nesting Occurrence and Density.
For the next 3 months, the overlap of wave exposure and nesting density within the Florida Panhandle portion of the Northern Gulf of Mexico Loggerhead Recovery Unit (among the smallest in the United States) will be assessed using data from the 2016 to 2019 nesting seasons, similar to previous work conducted in Alabama (see Publication page). This will allow us to better understand the proportion of nesting habitat exposed to wave inundation and erosion, the proportion of affected nests, where the hot-spots of inundation and erosion are, and how nest productivity has been impacted.
- This project has been made possible by a grant from the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate Grant: http://www.helpingseaturtles.org/funded.php?year=2020
- Ware et al. (2019) Using wave runup modeling to inform coastal species management: An example application for sea turtle nest relocation. Ocean and Coastal Management 173: 17-25. DOI: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2019.02.011.
Understanding the exposure of sea turtles to vessels: Determining the potential impacts of vessel strikes in South Florida
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently identified 8 inlets throughout the state as sea turtle-vessel strike hotspots (Foley et al. 2019). In October 2018, the Florida State University Marine Turtle, Research, Ecology, and Conservation Group convened a workshop in Tallahassee, Florida, with relevant stakeholders including state wildlife managers, law enforcement, rehabilitation centers, and academics to identify conservation actions which may be effective in reducing sea turtle-vessel strike mortality. Such actions could include reducing speed along designated paths (comparable to the existing manatee speed zones throughout Florida), avoiding or temporarily closing areas immediately offshore high-density nesting beaches, and an educational campaign to alter boaters to the presence of sea turtles in the area and impacts of sea turtle-vessel interactions both to the turtle and the vessel.
These conservation actions and the sentiments of the boating community about their theoretical enforcement were evaluated with social surveys at 8 public boat ramps throughout the St. Lucie Inlet region (see the Publications page to request a copy of the report and the published journal article). This region is home to many species of sea turtles including loggerheads, greens, Kemp’s ridleys, and leatherbacks – hawksbills and even an olive ridley have been reported in the area as well!
Following the social surveys, we conducted a series of in-water surveys with Inwater Research Group to identify areas of significant overlap between vessel traffic and sea turtle habitat use throughout the inlet and nearby waterways which may benefit from conservation actions. Check out the publication in Marine Policy – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308597X21000828
- This project has been made possible by grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate Grant: https://www.nfwf.org/grants/grants-library/profile?egid=58891, http://www.helpingseaturtles.org/funded.php?year=2019
- Fuentes MMPB, Meletis ZA, Wildermann N, Ware M (2021) Conservation interventions to reduce sea turtle vessel strikes: A case study in southern Florida. Marine Policy 128: 104471.
- Foley et al. (2019) Characterizing watercraft-related mortality of sea turtles in Florida. Journal of Wildlife Management, Early View. DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21665. https://wildlife.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jwmg.21665
Integrative assessment of a loggerhead foraging aggregation in Crystal River, Florida
For the past several years, the Florida State Marine Turtle Research, Ecology, and Conservation Group has been conducting regular in-water sea turtle surveys in the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve and the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge offshore between the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers. We regularly capture loggerhead, green, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles for health and morphometric assessments, biopsies for genetic and stable isotope analysis, and tagging to understand population dynamics. This extensive monitoring allows us to describe habitat use patterns across the three species and between seasons, including changes in those patterns due to human activities such as the recreational scallop fishery (Wildermann et al. 2018). We will be continuing our sampling for another year, so if you see us out on the water, say “Hello!” and keep an eye out for turtles!
- This project has been possible thanks to the continued multi-year support of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate Grant: http://www.helpingseaturtles.org/index.php
- Wildermann et al. (2018) Assessing the effect of recreational scallop harvest on the distribution and behaviour of foraging marine turtles. Oryx, First View.
Collaborations and Project Assistance
In addition to my own research, as a member of the FSU Marine Turtle Research, Ecology, and Conservation Group, I have the pleasure of assisting my lab-mates and other researchers in their projects. These projects have included …
- Validation of the use of stereo-video imaging for in-water sea turtle morphometric data collection in collaboration with the University of West Florida
- Evaluation of hatchery management actions on hatchling productivity in San Pancho, Mexico with the Science Exchange Internship Program and Grupo Ecologico de la Costa Verde
- A global survey of microplastic pollution at sea turtle nesting beaches in collaboration with the University of Exeter
- In-water trawl surveys on the R/V Georgia Bulldog with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to conduct population surveys and morphometrics/health assessments
- Night surveys on St. George Island, Florida to collect epibiont samples and conduct morphometrics/health assessments