Past Projects and Collaborations

I’ve had the privilege of leading and participating in a number of insightful conservation projects alongside great faculty, mentors, students, state and federal managers, and citizen scientists. For more details on these projects and related conservation issues, check out the publications and multimedia after each project as well as the respective PI webpages.

Wild Blue Science led by Dr. Nathan Robinson

Small video camera being attached to the back of a loggerhead turtle by a research student

Caught on Camera: The secret lives and foraging behaviors of loggerhead sea turtles

PIs: Mariana Fuentes (FSU), Ian Silver-Gorges (FSU), and Nathan Robinson (Wild Blue Science)

Have you ever been curious what sea turtles do when we’re not around? Or how about what they do to avoid us when we are around? Since Summer 2021, we have been hooking up loggerhead sea turtles off Crystal River, Florida with Paralenz Vaquita dive cameras to see the world from their perspective. The cameras stay attached for 3-4 hours, after which they pop off, float to the surface, and transmit a VHF radio signal, allowing us to retrieve the footage.

Through this project, we hope to gain a better understanding of the turtles’ dive patterns, foraging behaviors, habitat preferences, interactions with other organisms (e.g., other turtles, dolphins, sharks, fishes), and response behaviors when exposed to humans (e.g., snorkelers, boats anchored or transiting).

This footage will also help us:

  • Quantify the frequency of exposure to numerous threats (e.g., plastic pollution, boat strikes), and
  • Fill in critical knowledge gaps in sea turtle and benthic ecology
    • How does prey selection impact tissue stable isotope signatures?
    • How do foraging mechanics relate to epibiont assemblage patterns?
    • Can foraging-epibiont patterns partially explain the meiofauna paradox – the counter-intuitively wide dispersal of benthic microorganisms?

Publications and related literature/multimedia:

  • Dr. Nathan Robinson’s YouTube Playlist of footage from green sea turtles in the Bahamas

Two students sitting behind a loggerhead sea turtle

Integrative assessment of a loggerhead foraging aggregation in Crystal River, Florida

PIs: Mariana Fuentes (FSU), Simona Ceriani (FL FWC), Chris Sasso (NOAA), Tim Jones (FL DEP), Ian Silver-Gorges (FSU), and Natalie Wildermann (FSU)

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). Starting in 2021, this project was expanded to include the deployment of animal-borne cameras to give us a first-person view into the lives of these turtles (see Caught on Camera).

Publications in this project and related literature:

Five students sitting behind a green sea turtle on the beach

Loggerhead nesting ecology on St George Island, Florida

PIs: Mariana Fuentes (FSU), Ian Silver-Gorges (FSU), Simona Ceriani (FL FWC), Jeroen Ingels (FSU), and Janice Becker (FL DEP/FSU)

Given that sea turtles spend the majority of their lives at sea, population demographic data crucial for long-term conservation decisions are often hard to collect. However, the terrestrial reproductive phase gives us a much-needed and easily accessible option for observing adult females and their young. Understanding the nesting ecology is particularly important for the northern Gulf of Mexico – one of the smallest loggerhead turtle populations in the United States. St George Island in Florida’s eastern Panhandle contains the largest nesting assemblage in this delicate population.

Starting in 2016, the Florida State University Marine Turtle Research, Ecology, and Conservation Group has partnered with the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) and their network of volunteers to monitor various aspects of this nesting beach. Nighttime patrols during the peak of nesting season in late June allow us to tag individual females with external inconel and internal PIT flipper tags, collect skin samples, record morphometric measurements, and gather epibiont samples. Such interactions give us a glimpse into the demography, genetic structure, foraging ecology, and internesting and remigration intervals of this population. Morning patrols throughout the nesting season by ANERR volunteers provide data on crawl locations, nest disturbances (e.g., wave wash-over, predation), and hatchling production – all critical for threat assessments and population modeling.

Publications in this project and related literature:

A flotilla of personal boats anchored around a sandbar

Understanding the exposure of sea turtles to vessels: Determining the potential impacts of vessel strikes in South Florida

PIs: Mariana Fuentes (FSU), Zoe Meletis (UNBC), Natalie Wildermann (FSU), and Allen Foley (FL FWC)

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.

Publications in this project and related literature:

A loggerhead sea turtle crawling along the beach in front of multiple houses

Influence of Leave No Trace-type ordinances on sea turtle nesting success

PIs: Matt Ware, Mariana Fuentes (FSU)

Funding: Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, FSU Winchester Scholarship, and Florida State University

This project covered the entire Gulf Coast of mainland Alabama to determine if 1) nesting success improved, or 2) the frequency of obstructed crawls decreased following the enactment of Leave No Trace ordinances.


In 2015, the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama both enacted ordinances requiring beachgoers to remove personal equipment from the beach no later than 1 hour after sunset, among other restrictions. 

However, the ordinances do not apply to unincorporated portions of Baldwin County, such as Fort Morgan. On the other hand, there are 2 unpopulated protected areas (the Bon Secour NWR and Gulf State Park) which have had their own versions of the Leave No Trace ordinance. This configuration, plus historical data available before the city ordinances were enacted, provides an ideal situation to evaluate how the Leave No Trace ordinances impact nesting success.

Tents, umbrellas, beach chairs, holes, trash, etc. can prevent an emerging female from reaching a suitable nesting location, restrict hatchlings from reaching the water, or cause injury or death to animals unfortunate enough to become entangled. For example, a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) found on the Bon Secour NWR strangled by a beach chair on 14 July 2018 made international news, and has become a rallying cry for locals pushing for the expansion of the Leave No Trace ordinance (see related blog post about the incident).

Publications in this project and related literature:

Additional Project Collaborations

  • Global assessment of the current exposure of sea turtle nests to inundation and nature-based solutions to climate-induced degradation of nesting beaches
  • Validation of the use of stereo-video imaging for in-water sea turtle morphometric data collection – PIs: Tabitha Siegfried (Gulfarium/UWF), Susie Piacenza (OSU/UWF)
  • Evaluation of hatchery management actions on hatchling productivity in San Pancho, Mexico – PI: Katherine Comer Santos (Science Exchange Internship Program and Grupo Ecologico de la Costa Verde)
  • A global survey of microplastic pollution at sea turtle nesting beaches – PI: Brendan Godley (University of Exeter)
  • In-water trawl surveys on the R/V Georgia Bulldog to conduct population surveys and morphometrics/health assessments – PI: Mike Arendt (SC DNR)
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