My Research Program is Based at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.
Monitoring of Nesting Loggerhead Sea Turtles on Jekyll Island, Georgia
Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) are a federally-threatened species that nest along North America’s Atlantic Coast from Florida to Virginia. Approximately 40 females nest each year on Jekyll Island, Georgia depositing a total of over 100 nests (each female will deposit several nests within a nesting season). We are continuing a long-term monitoring effort in collaboration with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to track overall trends for the species in the region. During the nesting season (May-July) we patrol the beach every night to identify individual turtles while also locating and protecting their nests. This monitoring program lends itself to several research projects.
Genetics of Loggerhead Sea Turtles Nesting in Georgia. The data and biological samples we collect on Jekyll Island contribute to a large-scale effort led by Drs. Brian Shamblin and Joseph Nairn (University of Georgia) that uses genetics to identify mother turtles associated with each nest, allowing us to learn more about population trends and behavior of individual animals.
Characterizing Loggerhead Sea Turtle Behavior Following False Crawls. Loggerhead Sea Turtles often crawl on shore but leave without nesting, a behavior known as a false crawl. We know little about this behavior although it often (but not exclusively) occurs in response to anthropogenic disturbance. Through a combination of physical tagging efforts and genetic data, we are working to determine where and when Loggerhead Sea Turtles eventually nest following false crawls; this information will help us learn more about the biology of these animals while identifying how false crawls should be interpreted in the context of management plans.
Injury Rates Among Loggerhead Sea Turtles in Georgia Waters. Boat strikes, interactions with fishing gear, and predators all have the potential to influence federally-threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtles, by characterizing injuries observed among nesting females as well as those captured at sea, we are assessing the prevalence of injuries among individual animals and hope to use these data to make inferences about the population.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Nesting Loggerhead Sea Turtles and Assessing Transfer to Offspring. Contaminants in the environment have the potential to accumulate in marine reptiles and lead to negative effects. For example, endocrine disrupting chemicals may be carcinogenic and affect sexual development. In collaboration with investigators at Loggerhead MarineLife Center and UGA, we are taking blood samples from nesting Loggerhead Sea Turtles, quantifying concentrations of endocrine disruptors, and identifying whether females pass these chemicals off to their developing offspring.
Interactions Between Recreational Anglers and Sea Turtles
Although considerable attention has been dedicated to issues surrounding sea turtles and commercial fishing operations, less is known regarding how recreational fishing is impacting these animals, particularly near shore. Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles forage in the region and each year many are accidentally hooked by anglers on fishing piers. In collaboration with the Virginia Aquarium, we are generating new information that will help us learn more about how and why this conflict occurs in the hopes of offering recommendations that will reduce impacts to this critically-endangered species.
Spatial Ecology of Box Turtles on a Barrier Island Managed for People and Wildlife
The four golf courses on Jekyll Island, Georgia are each Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries. We are using radio-telemetry to track Box Turtles that use these golf courses and are characterizing their movements and habitat preferences. It is our hope that this information will allow us to continue to use the landscape in ways that are compatible for both people and reptiles.