Sea Turtle Conservation

Every summer, the R/V Georgia Bulldog crew works with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to study sea turtles.

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UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant use in-water surveys with bottom trawling (where a strong fishing net is dragged along the sea bottom) to capture sea turtles in coastal waters in order to study their population.

In partnership with South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant will catch sea turtles, take biological samples and measurements and record observations and associated bycatch, which is unwanted fish and other marine creatures caught during commercial fishing for a different species.

Cape Canaveral Sea Turtle Research

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant partners SCDNR to study the reproductive biology and seasonal distribution patterns of adult male loggerhead sea turtles.

Using modified shrimp trawl nets known as “turtle nets” (no turtle excluder device and larger mesh to minimize by-catch), short-duration drags were conducted aboard the R/V Georgia Bulldog in the shipping entrance of Port Canaveral, Florida.

The team completed sampling in April in both years, the month with the greatest probability of collecting adult male loggerhead sea turtles in this shipping entrance channel.

This work was novel in several respects. First, most of the adult male loggerheads collected in this study were satellite-tagged to document their local distribution patterns during the mating season and to determine the locations and water depths of these elusive loggerhead populations along the U.S. East Coast.

The researchers collaborated to gain as much information as possible from the loggerheads before they were released. Vet students learned how to perform scute scraping, while the research crew performed biopsies and collected blood samples to analyze for contaminants.
In addition to the examination to understand reproductive activity of male turtles prior to attaching the satellite-transmitters, an additional non-invasive reproductive technique was utilized: ultrasound.

By comparing ultrasound and laparoscopic images of a large sample of adult male loggerheads, researchers hope to validate this non-invasive technique for characterizing many reproductive aspects of sea turtles in the future.

Findings
In total, 38 individual adult male loggerheads were collected and sampled during the study, of which 29 were satellite tagged. Reproductive data for nearly all adult male loggerheads collected indicated that they were actively mating with adult female loggerheads in the vicinity. However, satellite-telemetry data revealed that some of these reproductively-active turtles were migratory, while others were long-term residents.

The migratory group remained close to shore during April and May before quickly emigrating away from Canaveral by the end of May, while the resident group shifted to the deep waters of the continental shelf offshore of Canaveral at about the same time that migratory animals also left the area.

Migratory animals dispersed along the U.S. East Coast and into the Gulf of Mexico to a number of different areas ranging from New Jersey to the Florida Keys and the Florida Panhandle, encompassing nearly the entire extent of nesting range for loggerhead sea turtles in North America.

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