A BIG thank you goes out to the Sea Turtle Conservancy (https://www.conserveturtles.org/) for funding one of our latest projects: Investigating loggerhead sea turtle embryonic tolerance to wave exposure and groundwater inundation through Florida State University! Every year, the Sea Turtle Conservancy oversees hundreds of thousands of dollars raised from the sale of the Sea Turtle specialty license plate throughout Florida. These funds are used to support the critical conservation efforts of coastal county governments, educational and research institutions, and rehabilitation organizations. On Tuesday 30 March, the Sea Turtle Conservancy announced the awardees for the 2021-2022 funding cycle – https://www.conserveturtles.org/sea-turtle-grants-program-awards-415000-to-conservation-projects-in-florida/. We are grateful for the opportunity afforded by the Sea Turtle Grants Program and offer our congratulations to the other highly deserving awardees including the Inwater Research Group, University of Florida, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, University of Central Florida, and Mote Marine Lab, among others!
This new project, Investigating loggerhead sea turtle embryonic tolerance to wave exposure and groundwater inundation, seeks to advance our understanding of a major threat faced by all sea turtle species at all nesting beaches: inundation. Sea turtles eggs are soft and leathery, not hard like a chicken egg. This difference allows water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide to move in and out of the egg as the embryo develops. However, if the nest is submerged under waves, tides, groundwater, or storm surge, or subjected to heavy rainfall, this increased moisture can:
- drown developing embryos by limiting gas exchange,
- disrupt the movement of water across the eggshell,
- reduce incubation temperatures causing changes in hatchling sex ratios,
- effect embryonic development resulting in alterations to hatchling morphology and fitness
But there is a lot we don’t understand about this threat. Despite its ubiquitous presence at all sea turtle nesting beaches, we don’t yet know at what point inundation becomes a problem or how this threat may be addressed to limit unintended consequences from any particular management decision.
To help answer these questions, this project will take a look at the frequency, duration, severity, and timing of wave exposure and groundwater inundation events during the 2021 nesting season at a major nesting beach in the Florida Panhandle – Saint George Island. A collaboration between the island’s volunteer, citizen science sea turtle monitoring program (https://floridadep.gov/rcp/nerr-apalachicola/content/sea-turtle-monitoring-anerr, https://www.facebook.com/SGI.Volunteer.Turtlers/) and researchers and students from Florida State University, the team will monitor wave wash-over and groundwater inundation using a combination of nesting surveys and HOBO water level loggers to see how they affect nest productivity.
Check back in to see project updates as we hit the field this summer!