Seven members of Coastal Wildlife Club attended the inaugural meeting of the Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Network held earlier this month on Jekyll Island in Georgia.
The focus of the three-day meeting was sea turtle research and conservation in the United States.
View More images >>Dr. Blair Witherington of Florida opened the presentation by recognizing the late Sinkey Boone, a well-known Georgia shrimper and inventor of the original “Georgia Jumper” turtle excluder device (TED).
Witherington labeled the TED the “… the most important [sea turtle] conservation tool that we’re likely to see in our lifetime.” Installed in shrimp nets, TEDs exclude bycatch, debris, seabirds and turtles, and thereby increase catch. Saving time and money, TEDs are alternately known as trawling efficiency devices.
Brian Shamblin of the University of Georgia reported on his genetics studies. His work is based on samples from nests in multiple states and collected by a network of thousands of individuals, including CWC volunteers. Though sea turtles are known to return to nest in the same general area where they hatched, Shamblin’s work revealed a loggerhead sea turtle that in 2011 surprisingly nested in Georgia, South Carolina, and in North Carolina.
He has not yet analyzed the Southwest Florida samples taken from nests of loggerheads and green turtles, but perhaps these will reveal some surprises also. The broad collaboration fundamental to his studies is a hallmark of sea turtle research.
Much sea turtle work is long-term as well as collaborative as is appropriate for migratory, long-lived species. An example is the bi-national effort between Mexico and the US, ongoing since 1978, to establish a second nesting colony of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles on Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. The effort appears to be succeeding.
Sea turtle population estimates are based on nest numbers. Given that 90% of loggerhead nesting in the United States occurs in Florida, the 40% decline in loggerhead nesting in the decade after 1998 has been a great concern. Nest numbers, however, in the last few years have been better statewide and locally on Manasota Key, in particular.
Dr. Llewellyn Ehrhart of the University of Central Florida said, “Though statistics don’t allow us to call it a reversal, it does look as though the decline has bottomed out.”
Further, while green turtle nests and leatherback nests occur in far fewer numbers than do loggerhead nests, nesting increases for both have been exponential. Not coincidentally, marine turtles have been federally protected by the US Endangered Species Act for the last 40 years.
In stark contrast leatherback nesting in the Pacific has plummeted, by as much as 90% on some beaches, and though not the focus of this meeting, the magnitude of that challenge was sobering.
The Jekyll Island meeting, hosted by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, fills a gap between sea turtle meetings in individual states and the international symposium. More than 70 CWC members also went to the annual Florida Marine Turtle Permit holder Meeting on February 17.
CWC members bring information home from these gatherings on the latest research findings and conservation advances, which is then shared with other members, residents and visitors encountered on the beach, and with participants at CWC’s teachers’ workshops in July.
CWC volunteers monitor most of the nesting beaches from south Venice to the Boca Grande Pass.
For more information, visit the CWC website at coastalwildlifeclub.org.
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