The answer is yes I do intend to leave a long lasting legacy to protect sea turtles and marine life.

Your generous support will help us fight an uphill battle to solve the problems at hand but will also support our future goals, to educate, conserve, and protect today so our children and theirs can enjoy the planets oceans and waterways and its habitats that we enjoy today. We hope that you will help and be long remembered giving future generations the opportunity to enjoy the wonders of our earth and oceans.

Would you like to leave a long-lasting legacy to protect sea turtles and marine life? Would you like to conserve and protect the planet’s oceans and waterways today so our children and their children can enjoy them tomorrow? Education is the key to passing on the knowledge needed for future generations to continue to protect our natural resources.

In order to give scholars, professors, and teachers the opportunity to pass on their knowledge, your Estate Planning can support a student’s education through the Elite Sea Turtle Society Scholarship Program. You can make a real difference in a young person’s life by helping provide the means for them to earn a graduate degree. These graduates can then continue to carry the banner of marine education, protection, public awareness, and research for the students of tomorrow.

Our continued success in protecting marine life relies on the foresight of people like yourself who plan ahead. It’s simple, and something to take into consideration with your Estate Planning. Examples are making the Foundation a beneficiary of a life insurance policy or portion thereof. Other options include retirement plans, brokerage accounts, and/or annual contributions with certificates of deposit. Most of us have a will or trust, and you may want to consult with your attorney, accountant, or financial executive to discuss the potential tax benefits of contributing to the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation, and to guarantee that your wishes will be carried out.

With your planned gift to NSTSTF you will become a member of the Elite Sea Turtle Society. Your gift will help us continue to support our education, protection, and public awareness programs, our own ongoing Hawksbill Sea Turtle Research Program, and help expand our efforts to support the scientists of tomorrow. Thank you!

P.S. If you would like to take this opportunity to join today your tax deductible contribution of $5000.00 will ensure your membership now. You can join online or mail your contribution to:

Attn. Elite Society at National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation, Inc.,
4419 W. Tradewinds Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308.
Thank you!
The National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation is Proud to Announce the 2018-2019

Florida Atlantic University Undergraduate Scholarship Program

The National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation plans to donate sufficient funds to Florida Atlantic University for 4 undergraduate scholarships at $15,000 each during the 2018-2019 academic year. The scholarship will provide financial assistance to Charles E. Schmidt College of Science seniors enrolled at the Boca Raton Campus who demonstrate academic excellence, financial need, and a commitment to become scholars and ambassadors that represent the Marine Science program at Florida Atlantic University. As such, they are expected to develop as well-rounded, skilled, and committed individuals who are motivated to engage the public through education, research and outreach activities appropriate to both their specific interests in the field, as well as those of importance in the field of marine biology.

The ideal candidate is an undergraduate about to enter their senior year with interest in any aspect of marine biology research at the ecological, evolutionary, or behavioral level and educational outreach. Preference will be given to applicants in good standing in the biology department’s Honors Thesis Program who demonstrate financial need, coupled with a commitment to community service, academic excellence, and a desire to enhance their ability to engage the public. These scholarships shall be awarded on the basis of need and merit without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, or disability.
2017 National Save-The-Sea-Turtle Foundation Graduate Scholarships at Florida Atlantic University
Mike Salmon, Ph.D., Research Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida Atlantic University
The National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation has again funded generous scholarships for graduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida Atlantic University. An increase in the dollar amount this year enabling the department to provide support to 8 talented, hard-working students who are making substantial progress toward completing advanced (Masters, Doctoral) degrees. Their research projects have in common that they deal with central topics in marine biology: how animals are functionally designed, how they exploit and perceive their environment, how they interact with one another, and how they are affected by human-induced environmental change.

It’s no accident that the organisms selected for these studies are “charismatic megafauna” – large, magnificent creatures that have persisted on earth for millions of years, play a dominant role in marine ecosystems, and have captured the interest and attention of humans throughout our history. They are unfortunately also organisms whose numbers have been severely depleted, thanks to our increasingly efficient ability to harvest them and to degrade the habitats they require to replace their numbers. These are, specifically, the marine turtles and the cartilaginous fishes (sharks, skates, rays).

It’s also no accident that our marine biology faculty and students highlight these animals as subjects, and center their work on these important topics. The knowledge gained from the studies described below will contribute importantly to our understanding of how these creatures can be managed to promote their recovery. Those goals will only be accomplished by faculty and students that set high standards for achievement. But, we also depend upon the financial support provided by organizations sympathetic to our objectives, such as the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation.
rachel bladow
Rachel Bladow
Response to Human-Induced Environmental Change

Climate change is predicted to result in a rise in average temperature, changes in the distribution of rainfall, as well as changes in the severity and frequency of storms and hurricanes. Rachel Bladow’s research is designed to identify
the effects of these climatic perturbations on the productivity of sea turtle nests on our beaches. Rachel collects all unhatched eggs from the nest after the hatchlings have emerged. After opening all the unhatched eggs, she then determines the stage of development when the embryos died, all as a function of what happened to the nest during incubation. If incubation temperatures are too hot, embryonic death can occur, leading to a decrease in hatching and emergence success.
alexandra lolavar
Alexandra Lolavar
The goal is to determine which stages of embryonic development are vulnerable to these high temperatures. The 2016 nesting season was unusually warm and dry, which resulted in high average temperatures inside the nest and a large proportion of death during embryonic development. The result has been a steady decline in average nest productivity on Boca Raton beaches from about 80% of the eggs resulting in hatchlings that left the nest in 2013, to about 38% (for loggerheads) and 54% (for green turtles) in 2016.

Alexandra Lolavar is studying how climatic conditions affect hatchling sex ratios (the proportion of male to female turtles that develop from a sample of eggs). In sea turtles the environment, and especially temperature, determines each individual’s sex. Warmer temps result in more females and cooler temps in more males (the “hot” babes, “cool” guys rule). This principle applies when sea turtle eggs are incubated at a fixed temperature under laboratory conditions. However, sex ratios are unpredictable under natural conditions as nests experience fluctuating temperatures. Alex found that nests exposed to similar ambient temperature but more rainfall produced more males than nests exposed to drier conditions. Her research now centers on better defining the relationship between temperature, moisture, and other variables (such as oxygen availability) as contributors to nest sex ratios. Her work has also forced biologists to consider how changes in precipitation patterns, also predicted to occur as a result of climate change, will affect the number of male and female hatchlings ultimately produced by natural nests.
boris tezak
Boris Tezak
What does seem clear, however, is that warmer temperatures bias sex ratios toward females but by how much, how often, and at what beach locations? Boris Tezak and his collaborator, Itzel Sifuentes are attempting to answer these questions. The problem is that hatchling sex can’t be determined by external appearance. In the past, the only alternatives were to sacrifice the turtle to examine its reproductive organs (not a solution when dealing with endangered species!) or to rear turtles in the laboratory until they were large enough to distinguish sex by laparoscopy (a time-consuming and expensive procedure).

Tezak and Sifuentes have developed a reliable method for determining hatchling sex by taking a small drop of blood and testing for the presence of sex-specific proteins. That procedure should allow biologists to immediately and inexpensively estimate the sex ratios of the turtles produced annually from nests placed not only on Florida’s beaches, but on nesting beaches worldwide.

Given that climate change is likely to shift sex ratios toward the production of more females, could there come a time some 15-20 years from now (as today’s hatchlings become sexually mature) when there won’t be enough males to service all the females? Since mating takes place out to sea, how would we even know that such a problem existed? We might recognize the problem if we knew how many males mate with individual females now, making any change occurring later obvious. Jake Lasala has been using genetics to characterize mating patterns and, at the same time, estimate the number of sexually active males to sexually active females present in current populations. His findings thus far indicate that some marine turtles are promiscuous, that is, the 100 or so hatchlings from each nest usually are sired by more than one father. Each female loggerhead, for example, mates with between 4 and 5 males whereas each green turtle female mates with 1-3 males. Jake has not found the same male mating with more than any one of the many females whose nests he has surveyed. That suggests that presently, there are plenty of males for each female but that situation could change if warmer temperatures result in nests producing an overabundance of female hatchlings. This study also leads to another important conclusion: females apparently prefer to mate with more than one male, probably because by doing so they produce hatchlings that are more genetically diverse than if their mom had only one mate. That diversity could promote better hatchling survival but advantages like that disappear if male representation in the population continues to decline.
Environmental Perception and Exploitation

Christina Coppenrath is increasing our understanding of how leatherbacks exploit their environment by determining how these turtles select oceanic habitats where they feed. Female leatherbacks migrate long distances from the subtropical and tropical beaches where they nest to the highly productive, cold water oceanic regions where they feed. Each female can spend 2 – 4 years feeding before they sequester sufficient energy to migrate back to the tropics, produce hundreds of eggs, and nest once again. There is growing evidence that females remember the location of their nesting beach based upon characteristics they learned as hatchlings, but little is known about how they select their feeding sites. Some biologists have speculated that there might be a link, expressed genetically, between where females nest and where they feed. Christina has been testing that hypothesis with leatherbacks that nest on Florida’s beaches. She uses novel molecular techniques that not only identify the female genetically but also the oceanic region where she feeds. Both female genetics and feeding signatures are present in and can be analyzed from small samples of skin and blood, taken from the female while she is nesting. Christina has identified sites where females are feeding before they nest but hasn’t found a link between female genetics and feeding location. Apparently, each female decides where to feed using criteria that differ from those used to select a nesting site. That discovery actually makes good sense since
christina coppenrath
Christina Coppenrath
the characteristics that make each of these locations “optimal” are unrelated. Moving forward, she will compare the oceanic habitats that are exploited by Florida’s leatherbacks to those utilized by other leatherback populations in the Atlantic Ocean.

For over 50 years, biologists have been intrigued by the ability of hatchling sea turtles to immediately orient toward the sea (“seafinding”), within seconds after emerging from an underground nest into a world that they’ve never before encountered. How they do it is a story that has become more interesting as old explanations become modified by new discoveries. There has remained one constant: hatchlings depend upon visual cues. But visual information can include many features - light intensity, color, form vision or some combination of those attributes – each of which needs to be identified. Adding to this complexity is that hatchling
orientation usually occurs at night, and vision at night depends upon receptors that are very sensitive to light but insensitive to its color, known as rods. For that reason, it was largely believed that seafinding was accomplished by using only light intensity cues, coupled with form vision. But, recent discoveries indicate that light consisting of the
danielle ingle
Danielle Ingle
shorter wavelengths (ultraviolet, violet and blue), that rods can’t detect, evoke the strongest orientation responses from hatchlings, and these wavelengths are present at nesting beaches, even at night. Lisa Celano plans experiments designed to measure the light wavelengths at the beach, then compare that wavelength distribution to how well green turtles orient to the same wavelengths under laboratory conditions. This combination of field and lab observations should at long last explain how sea turtles use wavelength, in addition to other cues, to locate the sea – at least for now!

Biomechanical Structure and Function

Two of our graduate students have interests in the mechanical properties of the muscles, bones and ligaments used by aquatic animals to swim so efficiently. Sharks are of special interest since in these animals, the skeleton is composed mostly of cartilage rather than bone. It turns out that the properties of cartilage vary and can support efficient swimming. That said, our understanding of how locomotion is accomplished in these and other large marine animals is far from complete.

Danielle Ingle is a third year doctoral student with a strong background in exercise science, anatomy and biomechanics. Her research passion is investigating how bones from the spine of large aquatic animals such as manatees, dolphins, and sharks, are structured to support and withstand the stresses involved in underwater movement. In previous studies she has gained experience dissecting the spinal columns of several species of dolphins and whales, and has used computer tomography (CT) scans to better understanding relationships between vertebral structure and function. She is now analyzing the mechanical properties of the vertebrae found in these animals by measuring their ability to withstand compressive forces, mimicking those that occur during active swimming by each species.
sarah hoffman
Sarah Hoffman
Sarah Hoffmann is studying the evolution, morphology, and function of shark pectoral fins to better understand how shark species that swim in different environments use those fins to move efficiently. The pectoral fins are paired structures, located just behind and beneath the head. They vary considerably in form and function, playing a critical role in swimming movements. To identify those roles, Sarah has developed techniques that record how sharks swim in three dimensions, using bead markers attached to the body that expose how parts of the body move in relation to other parts of the body. All of this information is recorded on video, making it possible to animate the movements and develop plausible hypotheses for how the underlying muscles are used to control those movements, and what is accomplished as the animal moves through its environment. Sarah also collaborates with researchers at the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Coalition to monitor the age, growth, and health of sharks in the Western Atlantic.
lisa celano
Lisa Celano
Last September she spent a month on a commercial swordfishing boat tagging sharks and collecting pectoral fin samples to determine how shape, skeletal anatomy, and fin stiffness vary among species. From this, she will determine relationships between pectoral fin structure, function, and the animal’s habitat.For example, sharks that live on or near the bottom have more flexible fins used for maneuvering over uneven surfaces whereas species swimming in open water have stiff pectoral fins that maximize their ability to “fly” efficiently through an unobstructed habitat.
National Save-the-Sea Turtle Foundation awards four $1000 Graduate Scholarships to Florida Atlantic University
Prof. Mike Salmon
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida Atlantic University at Boca Raton
The Department of Biological Sciences has once again been the recipient of five scholarships, totaling $4000, from the National Save-the-Sea-Turtle Foundation of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These funds are used to support graduate research at the Master of Science and Doctoral levels. While in the past the Foundation has provided funding for projects involving marine turtles, this year the decision was made to support broader topics of research dealing with the conservation, management, or basic biology of marine fishes as well as turtles. This topical expansion also better reflects the interests of our department which in recent years, has expanded by hiring of several new and outstanding faculty in the various subdisciplines of marine biology. Their students can now apply and compete for these important scholarships. Below, I summarize their projects.
Shelby Creager started working with sharks because she was fascinated by the way shark skin felt, how it looked under the microscope, and how its structure varied at different locations on the shark’s body. She wanted to know whether shark skin structure influenced the ability of sharks to swim. That led to the development of an interest in materials testing.
Sharks have very unique skin properties, compared to other animals. It has been shown to contribute to shark swimming by acting as an external tendon that transmits forces along the animal’s body. The skin is covered in small teeth-like structures called dermal denticles. Denticle shape and size varies among species and along the length of the body. Previous studies on shark skin mechanics have been only been done on one species, so Shelby is interested in determining the mechanical properties of shark skin among several species, selected because of differences in how they swim. She will also examine regional differences in skin properties at twelve different locations on the shark’s body. Skin from the blacktip, the scalloped hammerhead, and the shortfin mako sharks will be stretched using a materials testing system until skin failure is reached. That’s the point at which the skin breaks. This system is similar to what an engineer use to test the properties of concrete or steel. For this study, she is calculating ultimate skin strength (force required to break the skin), stiffness (the skin’s ability to resist tension), as well as the size and number of denticles per mm2 for each sample. Denticle information will be correlated with ultimate strength and stiffness.

Mechanical testing may be of great interest to engineers, but why would this be important biologically? These findings will detail the mechanical properties and denticle shape and size from several species, and may provide inspiration for the development of new types of flexible propulsion systems and biologically inspired materials for construction.
Victoria (“Tori”) Erb first started studying sea turtles as a junior in college. She later volunteered at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, documenting the location of sea turtle nests on neighboring beaches. Her responsibilities also included monitoring the nests throughout incubation, then determining how many hatchlings “made it” to the water. That experience peeked her interest in the plight of the hatchlings that didn’t make it. Tori’s thesis project focuses on measuring nest to surf mortality in loggerhead hatchlings, with particular emphasis on the sources of mortality for nests placed on Florida’s east coast. Those sources include predators (e.g., ghost crabs, raccoons, armadillos, foxes, coyotes, birds, and skunks), exposure to artificial light, and heat stress.

She will also conduct interviews with the permit holders who manage those beaches to obtain additional information about possible site-specific threats to hatchlings on the beach. Cooperation with local permit holders will be necessary to collect appropriate data during the duration of this study, while not interfering with ongoing studies. This project will be conducted on several east coast beaches, ranging from those fronting urban communities to others located adjacent to natural preserves. Cameras will also be used to identify the predators and to analyze the orientation of the hatchling tracks left behind when they crawled to the water, a useful measurement for identifying lighting problems. These data will create more accurate measures of current hatchling production that can be used to document changes in the future. Those kinds of measurements are crucial for formulating comprehensive plans needed to promote the recovery of these imperiled species.
Sarah Hoffman is interested in the different locomotor styles that marine organisms employ. Since water is so much denser than air, the resulting forces generated by the movements of fully aquatic organisms are amplified. As a student in the Integrative Biology program at Florida Atlantic University, Sarah is examining the role of control surfaces in sharks. Control surfaces, such as the pectoral fins, aid in vertical positioning with relatively little energy expenditure. The expanded head of hammerhead sharks (known as a cephalofoil) may also be a control surface and increase overall maneuverability. Though potentially advantageous in maneuvering, the cephalofoil prevents hammerhead sharks from rolling their bodies during turning as other pointy-nosed sharks do. So, Sarah is examining how hammerhead sharks initiate turns by recording their maneuvers with three-dimensional video cameras, then analyzing how the cephalofoil and pectoral fins are used during turning. Additionally, she will implant electrodes in the body musculature of these sharks to measure which muscles are used, and how they coordinate with other muscles during maneuvers. This comparative study will shed light on how different body forms of sharks accomplish complex movements, both in terms of their physiology and as well as their mechanics. The results are likely to be unique to each fish’s shape and in sharks (as well as many other fish species), shape matters!
Alexandra Lolavar studies how environmental factors, occurring inside the nest, determine sex ratios within the nests of marine turtles. Understanding this process is critically important for managing and conserving marine turtles so that the ratios of male to female hatchlings is appropriate and will be likely to promote the recovery of these threatened or endangered species.

Sea turtles have temperature dependent sex determination (TSD) - males are produced at cooler temperatures and females at warmer temperatures. While biologists remain confident of temperature’s role in sex determination, Lolavar’s studies have also identified moisture, in the form of rainfall, as another environmental factor that can modify sex ratios. Her experiments are designed to determine whether moisture alone, or the role of moisture as an agent of evaporative cooling, result in the production of more males. She is also interested in whether additional environmental factors, such as nest oxygen levels, also influence the ratios of males to females.

The fact that environmental factors have such an important impact on sea turtle development also means that the ongoing threat of climate change may be particularly worrisome. Sea turtle biologists anticipate that global warming might result in an overwhelming production of females; even less understood is how worldwide changes in precipitation that accompany global warming might also impact marine turtle sex ratios. These “unknowns” make studies such as Lolavar’s extremely important, as they can provide insights into how managers should respond if environmental changes begin to have adverse effects on marine turtle sex ratios.
Jake Lasala is interested in identifying the hidden elements of sea turtle behavior and population structure, those that determine the romantic relationships between males and females. The problem, from the perspective of an observer, is that how male and female marine turtles court and respond to one another occurs underwater, sometimes in deep water, and it’s only by the best of luck that human observers (let along those who are qualified biologists) get to witness what transpires. Even when they do see marine turtles mating, how can biologists be sure of the “result”? Mating may or may not be successful, especially when the offspring often number more than 100 hatchlings from a single nest. How many of those 100 are sired by a single male? If a female mates more often than once, a common occurrence in marine turtles, how many offspring are sired by different males? Many animals have similar (technically known as “promiscuous”) mating systems. In some of these species, all of the offspring are sired by the last male to mate with that female and none by those that mated with her earlier. Does that principle apply to marine turtles?

Lasala uses genetic markers from Mom and the hatchlings to answer these questions. The technique is essentially identical to the genetic methods used in lawsuits to determine paternity. Since each hatchling obtains half of their genes from mom and half from dad, you can use skin and blood samples from mom to identify her genes, and tiny amounts of blood from the hatchlings to identify her genes in each hatchling. Any unfamiliar genes found in the hatchlings must come from dad, and any different unidentified genes found in different hatchlings indicate that the hatchling had a different father.

By the end of the 2015 nesting season, Jake had sampled from over 135 nesting females and over 2,700 hatchlings from the three species that regularly nest on Florida’s beaches: the loggerhead, leatherback and green turtles nesting at three beach sites (Jupiter, Boca Raton and Sanibel, Florida). Each sample needs to be analyzed to determine paternity. Thus far, the results indicate that all species are promiscuous, but that loggerheads are more promiscuous than the other two species. Why that should be the case isn’t clear, and probably won’t be answered in this study. That’s a topic awaiting observations made by scientists who want to spend a lot of time underwater, watching the turtles make love. Jake, however, prefers to obtain his data by analyzing his tissue samples in the laboratory. To each, their own!
The National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation Supports Sea Turtle Conservation Programming
Larry Wood, Ph.D.
Public awareness is a key component of successful long-term sea turtle conservation. For many who have a curiosity about the natural world, especially children, sea turtles make excellent ambassadors from the marine environment. The National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation is proud to support programming around the State that enables talented educators to better reach their audiences.
Sea Turtle Adventures, Inc., located in southern Palm Beach County, includes a group of six volunteers who conduct nesting beach surveys and provide educational programs for local citizens who are eager to learn more about the importance of their beaches to the well-being of the nesting turtles and their offspring. The Foundation provided funding for updated audio-visual equipment for use during their outreach programs.
The Foundation renewed its long-term partnership with the Inwater Research Group (IRG) to continue and augment IRG’s outstanding educational programs, which have virtually exploded in popularity and spread Statewide and beyond. The demand exceeds the supply at this point, which represents a great challenge to meet! We’ll have much more in the next issue of Outreach.
“This is a very well-developed program. It was easy for me to use and the students loved the activities. They felt like experts by the end and I encouraged them to share their knowledge in an effort to help protect turtles.”

-Susan Taubler, Science Teacher, Windmill Pointe Elementary
The Foundation also made some new friends at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab Aquarium in Panacea Florida, near Tallahassee. This wonderful facility rehabilitates injured sea turtles, hosts kids from schools and camps, runs a mobile marine education van (touch tanks with live animals included), and contributes to important research programs of all kinds that rely on marine organisms for their studies. The Foundation looks forward to helping with exhibit enhancements and upgrades as they continue to grow their capacity to care for turtles and educate the public.
Inwater Research Group Provides Unique Sea Turtle Education Program
Rebecca Mott, Education Programs Manager, Inwater Research Group
In 2016, IRG was able to make amazing strides in the field of conservation education. We wrapped up our Treasured Turtles: Treasure Coast Sea Turtle Outreach Program for At-risk Youth. This program allowed us to find the most severely underserved schools in our surrounding school districts and offer them free in-class programs. Students were able to get hands-on with real artifacts and step into the role of biologists as they assessed and collected data from their very own model turtle. We visited four school districts, taught myriad of grade levels, and reached nearly 1,500 students. In addition to this grant program, we continued to visit schools by request in surrounding school districts. Engaging in-class presentations and demonstrations were delivered to over 500 students. Along with our Treasured Turtles grants program, we were able to reach over 2,000 students from 55 classrooms giving over 78 presentations.
Our Traveling Turtles: Traveling Trunk Program is a hands-on, experiential way for students to feel what it’s like to practice real science. Our traveling trunks are available to local teachers, who may run its 4-lesson module for up to three weeks in their classrooms. Kits include artifacts, biological tools, model turtles, interactive videos, and a ready-made lesson binder. Teachers and district coordinators laud its inquiry-based nature and its free status. Students are engaged with the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) content and enjoy the feeling of being a marine biologist as they run through the same data collection marine biologists do on a daily basis.

In 2015, the program was in such high demand that our two trunks could not accommodate all requests. Because of this, we launched two more trunks, totaling four to reach as many students locally as we could. Within two months, the program booked once again to capacity and this year we are slated to reach over 10,000 students in Martin and St. Lucie County School Districts.

Third grade students from Mariposa Elementary “work up” their turtle specimen
Despite our extensive local reach, our program could not extend further than Martin and St. Lucie County due to the trunks’ cumbersome nature. We want students from all over the State to be able to participate in this program and to subsequently understand not only how unique Florida is but how best we can protect its ecosystem and inhabitants.Because of this, we developed Traveling Turtles of Florida: a Statewide Traveling Trunk Program.

We re-created 5 of our successful trunks and after a statewide application process, selected 5 other conservation-based organizations in Florida to help us launch the program. Selected organizations were able to participate in this program free as funds for the grant were partially underwritten by the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation. After organizations received the program contents, IRG worked with them to help get the trunks up and running in their local schools, with each programs’ inception coinciding with the 2016-17 school year.
Hawksbill Project Continues Efforts in the Florida Keys
Larry Wood, Ph.D., Research Coordinator,
National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation
The Florida Hawksbill Project, sponsored by The National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation, continues to gather data on the hawksbill turtles that inhabit Florida’s nearshore environments. Thanks to the Foundation’s resources in the Key West and our friends at Florida International University in Key Largo, we have been able to focus some of our surveys on the shallow reefs of the lower, middle, and upper Keys to complement the work we’ve done north of there in Palm Beach County.
Dr. Wood with a young Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata
from the Florida Keys.
This year, so far, we’ve found 21 hawksbills during 26.0 hours in the water in the Keys, so almost one per hour of searching, which is really quite good! Of those 21 we sighted, we were able to hand-capture 15 to collect measurements and samples, so our capture rate is right around 70%. We appreciate the hawksbills’ lazy attitude concerning our in-water approach! These captures have generated important tissue samples for our stable-isotope movement and distribution study, blood samples for our hematology/cytology study, and lots of tiny organisms for Tom Frankovich’s diatom studies. I’d like to thank all the hardy volunteer helpers who brave the waters all day long in search of these elusive little turtles (in no specific order):
Hawksbills are famous for their beautiful
shells, which is evident on this specimen.
We hope populations recover with reductions
in the global trade of products made
from this material.
Jef Otten, Cole Reintsma, Jamie Serino, Lindsay Cross, Layna Moehl, Anna Bennett, Stefanie Ouellette, Tom and Didi Frankovich, Virginia Fourquean, and our great Captain Nick Reeves.

There are some observations coming out of our work so far in the Keys, and we’ll keep you posted on what more we find!

  • This year, we have encountered several more of the very small ones, less than 30 cm long. These are probably from the same year-class, and have arrived recently from the offshore environment.
  • We did not see any of the tagged turtles from last year though we visited the same places repeatedly. This suggests they are mobile at this stage rather than tied to specific locations for extended periods of time.
The mission of The Comprehensive Florida Hawksbill Research and Conservation Program (a.k.a The Florida Hawksbill Project) is to study and protect the region’s hawksbill sea turtles and the habitats in which they live. Within the scope of this project, numerous studies have been undertaken to characterize the hawksbill aggregations found in SE Florida waters, and educational programs have been developed to engage the local dive community in the protection of hawksbil sea turtles and coral reef habitats. This program is hosted by the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Why Hawksbills?

Unlike several other species of sea turtles, hawksbills don't nest on Florida's beaches and have been traditionally thought of as rare in Florida waters. As a result, little is known of their role in Florida’s marine habitats, though for decades they have been so familiar to SCUBA divers along Florida's Southeast Coast. As a highly endangered species and an important member of the coral reef community, understanding and conserving hawksbill turtles in this part of their range is important to the future of both. The Florida Hawksbill Project is the only long-term study of hawksbill turtles in this part of their range.

A Tough Road...

For centuries, a lucrative global trade in hawksbill sea turtle shell (a.k.a. "tortoiseshell", which was used primarily for stylish personal items and artwork) reduced hawksbill turtle populations to near extinction. Though international laws prevent the trade of products derived from endangered species, these practices continue throughout their range. Combined with the additional pressures of egg harvesting and habitat loss, the future of this species remains uncertain. International conservation efforts over the last four decades have and will continue to work to stabilize hawksbill populations around the world, and we are proud to contribute to that effort.

What Can We Do?

By studying the hawksbills of Florida, we are contributing to the ongoing effort to recover Caribbean hawksbill populations. Multi-national efforts are required to stimulate hawksbill conservation, in large part due to their large ranges and close association with the region’s coral reefs. The hawksbill turtles we encounter in Florida’s waters have immigrated from and will return to a variety of distant locations around the Caribbean, creating a melting pot of regional populations that can provide valuable insight to the biology and conservation of hawksbills on a regional scale.

Our Research

The most important long-term task of the Florida Hawksbill Project is to provide a basic census of hawksbill turtles in Florida State waters. Once we know where they are most likely to be found, we can focus our efforts on estimating what the overall population may be. From there, we can determine the relative contribution Florida makes to the larger-scale regional recovery of this species.

Throughout their global range, hawksbill turtles are known to closely associate with coral reef habitats, mostly due to their preference for eating sponges and corals. Due to the large extent of Florida’s barrier reefs (approx. 350 linear miles), the Hawksbill Project focuses on representative sites in the northern, central, and southern sections of the Southeast Florida Reef Tract. The barrier reefs of northern Palm Beach County, the patch reefs of the northern Keys, and the finger reefs of Key West are the primary locations for our sampling efforts.

Hawksbill turtles from each site are hand captured, tagged, and sampled for a number of studies related to their movements, behavior, and physiology. Each individual is equipped with markers (a.k.a. “tags”) that enable the research team to identify them should they be encountered again. To date, over 225 hawksbill turtles have been individually tagged, at least 60 of which have been encountered more than once.

Key Findings:


One of the first things we learned is that there are many more hawksbills than were expected, which reveals how important the reefs of Palm Beach County are for young hawksbill turtles. We estimate their abundance by keeping track of how many we encounter during our overall time searching. The resulting ‘catch per unit effort’ generated by our work can be compared with those from other study sites around the Caribbean, and we have so far firmly established that Florida is host to a regionally significant number of hawksbill turtles.

Population Structure:

The hawksbills of Palm Beach are primarily sub-adults, or immature turtles that have not yet grown to reproductive maturity. Hawksbills, like other sea turtles, can be found in different geographic locations depending on their life-stage. We call Florida “developmental habitat” for young hawksbill turtles who will someday depart to spend the rest of their lives elsewhere as adults.

Movements and Growth:

Once tags are placed on a turtle, it can be distinguished from others. When these individuals are encountered repeatedly, we gain valuable insight to their movements and growth patterns. Dozens of tagged hawksbills have been reported within the study site, some individuals since the inception of the study in 2004, all within close proximity to where they were originally found. To gain more details, our satellite tracking study examined the home-range, or territory, of six hawksbills that all stayed within close proximity (about a half-mile) to their favorite underwater caves, which they returned to each night for months on end. These results suggest that at least some of Florida’s hawksbills may stick around for the duration of their sub-adult life-stage, which is likely to be around 15 years. We’re now using chemical traces of carbon and nitrogen in the turtles’ tissues to follow their steps from their initial arrival in Florida as young juveniles through to their impending departure as young adults. We are also developing shell-mounted underwater cameras to record their interactions with each other and their environment.


Since we know that the hawksbills found in Florida did not come from Florida (hawksbills don’t nest with any regularity there), we were curious about their origins, and by extension, their future destinations. Since sea turtles return to their natal beaches to nest, we can detect subtle differences in DNA sequences that have developed between various regional sub-populations. The young hawksbills we find in Florida carry their DNA ‘fingerprint’ with them, which reveals their place of origin. Turns out, Florida is a melting pot of Caribbean hawksbills from as far south as Panama to as far east as the leeward islands, but most hatched on the beaches of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
bioone ambassador award, dr larry wood


Dr. Larry Wood

Nominated by The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles

The BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career researchers who excel at communicating the importance and impact of their research beyond their discipline. Nominees were asked to provide a 250-word plain-language summary of their research which responded to the question: "How do the results of your work apply across disciplines and to the public?" Responses were judged for their relevance and clarity. Read below to read Dr. Wood's winning summary, and learn more about his research.

Home Is Where the Heart Is:
The Hawksbill Turtles of Palm Beach

bioone ambassador award, dr larry wood
“It’s 10:00 PM. Do you know where your turtles are?” Unusual question, but how fortunate I am to be asked! Interestingly, many folks harbor a fondness for turtles, especially sea turtles, that isn’t extended to much of the rest of the reptile world. This twist of fate has helped them become inspirational characters in the global effort to affect marine conservation.

On Florida’s east coast, sea turtle nests (often conspicuously roped off with stakes and caution tape) are as familiar to the locals as surfboards and sandcastles. People genuinely care about them, and many communities have become inspired to make their beaches as ‘turtle friendly’ as possible to encourage their return.

In contrast, the young hawksbill sea turtles I study don’t come ashore, instead they inhabit Florida’s coral reefs. Reefs are fragile, diverse, and important to both ecologies and economies, but difficult to protect. From diving, I suspected hawksbill sea turtles reside there. By tracking them with satellite transmitters, I found I could not only peer into their mysterious daily lives, but also reveal this place as their home, and maybe, just like the beach, help justify its safekeeping.

What did we find? Among many other things, we confirmed that the turtles do reside there, and, by the way, are safely asleep in their favorite underwater caves every night by ten. Have we permanently saved their home? Not yet, but we’re proud to make our contribution, and history shows that familiarity leads to empathy, one step at a time.
This summary was in reference to:

Home Range and Movement Patterns of Subadult Hawksbill Sea Turtles in Southeast Florida. Journal of Herpetology 51(1):58-67. 2017. Lawrence D. Wood, Barbara Brunnick, and Sarah L. Milton.

Funding for this research was provided by through Florida Atlantic University, the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate Grants Program (administered by the Sea Turtle Conservancy), the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, and private donors to the Palm Beach Zoo.

dr larry wood

Dr. Larry Wood

Nominated by The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
Dr. Larry Wood has been working with sea turtles for nearly 30 years. His lifelong interest in reptiles brought him from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania to Juno Beach Florida, where he undertook sea turtle nesting surveys, helped develop a sea turtle rehabilitation facility, and created a variety of public awareness and marine education programs. In 2004, he established the Comprehensive Florida Hawksbill Research and Conservation Program (a.k.a. The Florida Hawksbill Project), which is the first and only long-term study of hawksbill sea turtles in Florida. Dr. Wood has contributed to sea turtle conservation in many ways in Florida and elsewhere through his publications, contributions to symposia, and student/volunteer mentorship. He is currently pursuing his research and public education interests with the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

What drew you to your current research field?

A vacation to South Florida as a young college student resulted in a career with sea turtles, and later local scuba diving inspired me to study hawksbills.

Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?

Early in my career Dr. Peter Pritchard, early in my hawksbill research Dr. Anne Meylan, more recently Dr. Terry Maple.

What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?

We share our oceans with their inhabitants. Our futures depend on one another.

If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?

Be persistent in your interests and surround yourself with supportive, positive people. Respectfully and courteously disregard those who might stand in your way.


Dr. Larry Wood

For information about The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, please vist their website:

The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
Or contact the SSAR Secretary, Marion Preest.

For questions about BioOne or the BioOne Ambassador award, please contact:

Caroline Breul