July 15, 2015

About the study

Our research:

I am really lucky to study these enormous leatherback sea turtles! This leatherback weighs almost 1000 pounds and has visited our beach for the past few years. We mark identify these endandered animals with metal tags that are placed on the rear flipper and we implant a small microchip in their shoulder muscles. We have Identified more than 540 individual turtles that make up the nesting population at Juno Beach, Florida.

Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are an endangered species. They are the largest species of sea turtle, often reaching over 1,000 pounds. They are very vulnerable to fisheries bycatch, marine pollution and coastal development. Here in Florida, their nest counts and the number of individual nesting turtles are increasing.

We conduct an intensive night time study utilizing mark recapture, satellite tracking, and genetic studies to unravel the mystery of the leatherback sea turtle. By tagging individual turtles and documenting every encounter, we can better understand the size and health of the population as well as basic parameters like nest frequency, individual size, migratory patterns, and survival rates.

How we conduct  this study

Each night from mid March until June 30th, our team patrols the beach looking for nesting leatherback turtles. The team encounters leatherback turtles and tags, weighs and measures each animal. By uniquely identifying each individual, we hope to unravel some of the mysteries of this important nesting population. Our research team collaborates with scientists from institutions such as the National Marine Fisheries Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife, WIDECAST, the Canadian Sea Turtle Network, and many Universities. Collaborations and partnerships like these are key to truly understanding the global population of leatherback turtles.

TagsBy collecting measurements, skin biopsies, and tag return records, we are able to publish some preliminary results about this important population. A summary of leatherback size can be found in the Herpetological Journal, results from several studies on organic pollutants are published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, and results of tracking studies are published in Chelonian Conservation and Biology. Our goal is to continue to collaborate with colleagues to make sure these important data are utilized to better understand the population and we strive to come up with new and exciting research studies each year.


11 thoughts on “About the study

    • Frank, we do not “head start” leatherbacks. Most of these programs are no longer used and are being replaced with better sea turtle protection and other conservation methods.

  • I have images of a giant leatherback offshore Palm Beach on 10/10/15. Easily 1000-pounds. Check out my Facebook page for the story. Keep up the great work!

    • Michael, what an awesome experience. Leatherbacks often host Cobia and Remora’s. Occasionally we will see a leatherback crawling up on the beach to nest with remora’s still attached.

  • Hi Guys,

    Great work and data collection!

    I really wish that we can start some of that work here in Trinidad with the same support and enthusiasm you all have received!
    There are many beaches where comprehensive data collection is lacking and all it requires is the will!

    I am trying to get a project started but have encountered numerous challenges including both financial and just plain opposition!

    It is sad that there is a lack of enthusiasm where I sit.

    Anyway, you all keep up the great work!

    • Isla is occasionally sending data to us but the system is unable to
      calculate a location. This is likely due to bio fouling of her tag and
      low state of charge of the batteries on her transmitter. We have
      followed her for more than 640 days now and we are hoping that she
      will nest this season. Her last data location shows here very close to
      her “normal” nesting beach. When new data arrives it will be plotted
      on her map automatically.

  • I purchased a necklace so I could help a turtle out… Malone is my girl but for some reason I can’t register on this site to track her…. Please advise asap

  • I cant actually track the turtle, i think… It keeps on saying “Past high quality transmission: a few moments ago” and the turtle hasnt moved in days (or weeks by the looks of it) so it could be that it died before i got to the tracking app, it could be the tracker somehow fell off of it. Also does anyone know where i can get pictures of the turtle?

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