After a 17,000 km round trip migration up to the coast of New Jersey and down towards the Caribbean, leatherback turtle “Hope” returned to Jupiter Island, FL to nest just 1.5 km from her previous nest, which she laid in May 2020. Leatherback turtles typically nest every 2-3 years, and it’s very rare for one to nest in consecutive years. This is the first time researchers have had the chance to track a leatherback turtle that’s nested consecutive years!
Hope was equipped with a satellite transmitter last May by researchers from the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) and Florida Leatherbacks, Inc. as part of STC’s annual Tour de Turtles “migration marathon” education program. The satellite transmitter allows the researchers and the public to track Hope’s location online and follow her migration.
“Hope provides an incredible opportunity to track the same leatherback a second time from a nesting beach,” said Dr. Daniel Evans, STC Research Biologist. “She was an interesting turtle to follow in 2020, so we are excited and curious to see whether or not she follows her previous path.”
Hope developed a legion of dedicated fans who enjoyed checking her location online every day and following her incredibly unique track.
After transmitting for nearly nine months, Hope’s location stopped updating while she was located about 250 miles north of Puerto Rico. This can happen for a number of reasons—the tracking device may be damaged, have fallen off completely, or could be covered in biofouling which prevents it from sending a signal. Hope’s fans stood by hoping to see her signal come back online one day. Researchers were also hopeful she would start transmitting again, as her track indicated she may be returning to Florida, which would be an extremely unique event.
With no signal from Hope for almost two months, researchers from Florida Leatherbacks, Inc. were surprised when they came across a familiar turtle during their nightly track survey on March 29. It was Hope! It turns out, her satellite transmitter had fallen off, but they were able to identify her by her metal flipper tags and a PIT tag, or microchip. They were able to re-apply a satellite transmitter to continue tracking her, a very rare opportunity.
“We were incredibly excited and honestly quite shocked when the team found her again this year,” said Kelly Martin of Florida Leatherbacks Inc.” “We were even more thrilled that we had another satellite transmitter ready to go. This is the first time we have been able to track an endangered leatherback that has nested two years in a row and provides a very unique opportunity to look at behaviors that aren’t usually easy to track.”
As of Monday April 5, Hope is located about 30km east of the Ft. Pierce inlet in 128ft deep water. Since tagging last May, she has traveled more than 18,000 kilometers. The public can track Hope online at www.trackturtles.com/hope
The Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP), funded by the sale of Florida’s “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, recently awarded $415,463.82 to 26 different projects benefiting Florida sea turtles as part of the 2021-2022 grant funding cycle. Since it’s inception, the Sea Turtle License Plate Grants Program has awarded more than $6.5 million to conservation projects.
Each year, the Sea Turtle Grants Program distributes money to coastal county governments, educational and research institutions and nonprofit groups through a competitive application process. The sea turtle specialty license plate is also the primary source of funding for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Protection Program.
The following organizations received grants for their approved projects for the 2021-2022 cycle:
The sea turtle plate is the number three overall selling specialty tag in Florida, and the number one environmental specialty plate. By purchasing the sea turtle specialty license plate, Floridians are voluntarily funding important programs to save endangered sea turtles and their habitats.
To learn more about the Sea Turtle Grants Program and the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, please visit www.helpingseaturtles.org.
Florida’s sandy beaches are unlike any place in the world. More than 100 million people visit them each year, making them the main economic driver for our state. They provide coastal recreation, bring aesthetic beauty and infuse billions of dollars into our economy each year. Florida’s sandy beaches are part of our state’s identity and our economic health.
At the same time, Florida’s beaches provide the most important nesting habitat for loggerhead sea turtles in the world. For those of us lucky enough to have witnessed a sea turtle crawling out of the sea at night to lay her eggs, or to have seen a nest of tiny hatchlings emerge from their nest and instinctively charge toward the water, you know how special Florida is for threatened and endangered sea turtles. All sea turtle species that nest in Florida are protected by both State and Federal law. These laws also protect their nesting habitat, meaning it is unlawful for things like sea wall construction to destroy this habitat.
A bill introduced recently in the Florida House and Senate (H.B. 1133 and S.B. 1504) seeks to deregulate coastal armoring, allowing for the rampant proliferation of sea wall construction around the coastline of Florida. No sandy beach would be safe. If approved, this bill would convert Florida’s coastline to concrete to protect the thin ribbon of pricey properties built on the beachfront – all while risking Florida’s economy; cutting off beach access for Floridians and tourists; and decimating the most important habitat for loggerhead turtles in the world.
For decades, bipartisan leaders of Florida have recognized the value of our sandy beaches. Sea walls and other forms of “hard armoring” to protecting upland property from erosion have been viewed as a last resort option because of how much is sacrificed once you erect a wall on the beach. Once installed, sea walls disrupt the natural beach dynamics and rapidly increase the rate of erosion down the beach—creating a “domino effect” that necessitates more and more sea walls—destroying sea turtle and shorebird nesting habitat, cutting off public access and eliminating the aesthetic, recreational and economic value of the coast for everyone.
The bills filed by Representative Tom Leek and Senator Tom Wright, whose districts include parts of Volusia and Brevard Counties, represent a complete abandonment of the thoughtful management of Florida’s natural, sandy beaches. They are a major threat to Florida’s wildlife and Florida’s economy, and they should be withdrawn from consideration.
What these bills would do is eliminate any real consideration of whether upland structures are actually vulnerable to erosion before qualifying for a sea wall. If a beachfront property owner requests a permit to build a sea wall (or seeks a permit for a wall already installed illegally), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would be forced by law to grant the permit. No consideration of impacts to the beach, no consideration of impacts to neighbors, no consideration of other alternatives and certainly no consideration of federally protected sea turtles.
We need your help to stop this horrible legislation from moving forward. Please contact bill sponsors Representative Tom Leek and Senator Tom Wright and tell them to remove this bill from consideration in order to protect Florida’s wildlife and way of life.
Senator Tom Wright
District Office: (386) 304-7630
Satellite Office: (386) 304-7630
Tallahassee Office: (850) 487-5014
Representative Tom Leek
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5025
District Office: (386) 238-4865
SCAM ALERT! Companies operating under a variety of names are advertising on Facebook, selling products online, and illegally using STC’s turtle tracking maps as a perk to buyers. If you have been offered an STC tracked turtle by purchasing something from Ocean Project.co (not to be confused with ‘The Ocean Project‘), Turtle’s Journey, Wildlife Team, Wildlife Mission, or Ocean Better, they have used Sea Turtle Conservancy’s turtle tracking information without our permission. Don’t be duped or support the scammers!
If you have been scammed, please do NOT email or call STC if you haven’t received your order or if you have questions about your turtle. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do. The greatest inconvenience to STC (aside from having our copyrighted information stolen) is the valuable staff time that is being wasted responding to people’s complaints rather than actually working to protect sea turtles. Instead, we encourage you to report the activity of these companies to the Better Business Bureau, Shopify, and Facebook (contact information below).
How to report scam companies:
File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau: https://www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started
Report online shops to Shopify: https://help.shopify.com/en/questions#/contact/email
Report pages to Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/help/355811251195044
If you ever question the legitimacy of a company who claims to partner with STC, we encourage you to reference the PARTNERS page on our website, which we update regularly.
Introducing the winning photos from our 2021 Sea Turtle Calendar Contest! Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest. It gets harder every year to narrow down hundreds of beautiful images to only 13 photos! Calendars will be for sale in our online gift shop in November. We will post the link once they’re live.
COVER PHOTO – BEN HICKS
JANUARY – MARIO CISNEROS
FEBRUARY – ADHITH SWAMINATHAN
MARCH – HECTOR CHENGE
APRIL – KATHY WIANKE
MAY – BARBARA SELLES
JUNE – KARLA G. BARRIENTOS MUNOZ
JULY – CHRISTIAN MARTINEZ
AUGUST- MARIO CISNEROS
SEPTEMBER – ADHITH SWAMINATHAN
OCTOBER – RALPH PACE
NOVEMBER – ARGHYA ADHIKARY
DECEMBER – STEFANIE PLEIN
In May 2019, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Section 338.2278, which created the Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) Program. This program proposes that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) build three new toll highways, which would permanently destroy some of the last remaining wild stretches of coastline in Florida.
One of the three proposed roads, the Suncoast Connector, would slice through the Big Bend coastal region of northwest Florida and cause irreparable harm to the area’s pristine coastal waters and productive seagrass habitat. Through its In-Water Research Project, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) studies and protects the juvenile turtle populations that grow up along this coastline. The shallow seagrass beds in this region of Florida are a globally-important developmental habitat for young green, loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Juvenile turtles spend their time foraging and growing up in this area until they reach maturity. When they leave the Big Bend, they become essential components of the marine ecosystems around Florida and throughout the Caribbean and Central America.
The fragile turtle nursery of the Big Bend exists because of the region’s relative lack of development. The Nature Coast is one of the few places in Florida where annual red tide blooms are not observed because of the degraded water quality. Seagrass is declining worldwide largely due to human impacts. Yet, the Nature Coast contains 1,200 square miles of seagrass habitat, which is the second largest area of its kind in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. These shallow water communities are home to thousands of invertebrates, fish and turtles, many of which depend on seagrass for protection and food. However, this habitat is incredibly vulnerable to runoff and other impacts from overdevelopment, which inevitably will occur if these massive highways move forward.
Iconic rivers, including the Suwannee, Withlacoochee, Steinhatchee and Aucilla, would be forever impacted by these proposed toll roads. Runoff from highways and associated development in the area would leech into waterways and pollute nearby coastal waters, putting juvenile turtles at risk from degraded water quality and disease. Fibropapillomatosis, a tumor-causing disease afflicting juvenile turtles is directly correlated with runoff from roads, septic tanks and other kinds of development sprawl these highways would bring to the region. The Nature Coast’s juvenile turtles and so many other forms of ecologically and economically important coastal wildlife will be in the crosshairs if these unnecessary highways move forward.
For the past year, the three toll roads have been studied by task forces comprised of state and local governments, environmental groups, water management districts and non-profit organizations. In September, each task force released its findings and concluded that none of these tolls roads are needed. Instead, the task forces recommended that the FDOT focus on updating existing roads. Cornell Consulting, a firm contracted by the No Roads to Ruin Coalition, found that each toll road was “financially infeasible.” The construction of the roads alone will cost an estimated $10.3 billion over the next ten years.
These proposed highways are not yet set in stone. The State of Florida has the ability to adopt a “no build” option, which would remove the
MCORES Program from the FDOT’s Five Year Work Plan. STC is asking its members and supporters to help us save one of Florida’s last wild stretches of coastline by voicing your opposition to the M-CORES toll highways.
The FDOT is accepting public comment on each task force’s final report until Wednesday, October 14. The final findings will be delivered to Governor DeSantis on November 15.
You still have time to submit a comment opposing the roads online. Please take a minute to voice your opposition to the Suncoast Connector. Simply click this link and scroll to the bottom of the page to submit a comment voicing your opposition: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/5c2d25cdbcf34ecc97b9a7b4ba5b2b10
Overview and Purpose
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is based in Gainesville, Florida, and was founded by renowned sea turtle expert Dr. Archie Carr. STC is the oldest and one of the most accomplished sea turtle conservation organizations in the world. STC is hiring a Senior Accountant to assist the STC Controller in managing and accounting for projects in the US, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Caribbean.
Duties and Responsibilities
This position is full time, based in our Gainesville, Florida office. Accounting tasks will be many and varied, under the direct supervision of the Controller. They will include:
Salary and Benefits
Applications will be accepted until a candidate is selected. Apply by submitting your cover letter and resume to the Controller, Pat McCloskey, at email@example.com.
Overview and Purpose
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is based in Gainesville, Florida, and was founded by renowned sea turtle expert Dr. Archie Carr. STC is the oldest and one of the most accomplished sea turtle conservation organizations in the world. STC is hiring a Lighting Project Specialist to work on our Sea Turtle Lighting Project. This person will work as part of our lighting team implementing sea turtle lighting retrofits on beachfront properties in Florida, assisting with educational workshops, and coordinating dune planting projects to help further reduce lighting impacts to nesting turtles. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has funded STC’s lighting project as part of its investment toward mitigating the impacts to sea turtles caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The project’s goal is to increase sea turtle survivorship by reducing hatchling disorientation caused by lighting. The project works with private property owners to retrofit problematic beachfront lighting to sea turtle friendly alternatives using the best available technology.
Duties and Responsibilities
The primary responsibilities of this position will be implementing sea turtle lighting retrofits and dune planting projects in the south west Florida peninsula. The position will involve collection of night-time photos and lighting measurements; contract negotiations with property owners and managers; developing exterior lighting plans; communicating with property owners and lighting distributors; and data entry, management, analysis and mapping using Access, Excel and ArcGIS Online. Travel to the south west Florida peninsula and other parts of the state over 3 to 5 day periods will be required. Duties also will include coordinating travel logistics; tracking the progression of multiple projects in various stages; and conducting lighting workshops developed for code enforcement and building professionals. The position will require flexible work hours, occasionally at night and on the weekends. The Lighting Project Specialist will be based in Gainesville and work directly under the Lighting Project Manager as part of a four-person team of lighting specialists.
Salary and Benefits
Applications will be accepted until a candidate is selected. A start date prior to the end of 2019 is preferred. Apply by submitting your cover letter and résumé to the Project Manager at Rachel@conserveturtles.org.
***UPDATE as of 8/7/2019: Great news out of the Brevard County Commission meeting last night! The commissioners rejected the citizen initiative to allow dogs on 11 miles of the Refuge. Most of the commissioners were vocally opposed. In the Carr Refuge District, 92% of those contacting their commissioner via email and phone did not want dogs on their beaches. Commissioners cited both human health and safety and the sensitive habitat as reasons for not supporting the initiative. THANK YOU to all who signed our petition, called and emailed commissioners and spread the word about this harmful proposed initiative! You truly made a difference. If any news breaks about this issue in the future, we will be sure to keep you informed.***
Brevard County’s Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge hosts the single most important sea turtle nesting beach in the United States. The Refuge is a nesting ground for more threatened loggerhead turtles than virtually anyplace else on Earth, as well as for green and leatherback sea turtles. Decades of tireless work and millions of dollars spent by governmental agencies, non-profit organizations such as the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), and foundations successfully created and protected the Refuge as a safe haven for sea turtles. A recent movement to open up the Refuge to domestic dogs threatens this progress.
A group of local Brevard residents is pushing forward a proposal to allow dogs on 11.5 miles of the Refuge between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. daily. STC has extensive experience in monitoring and protecting sea turtle nesting beaches in Florida and the Caribbean. On some of the beaches we monitor, dogs have been documented as a major threat to sea turtles; dogs are excellent at sniffing out turtle nests and digging them up. Dogs are also known to predate live hatchlings ready to emerge and scare off adult nesting sea turtles. Sea turtles, especially hatchlings, have plenty of wild predators without humans introducing large numbers of domestic predators.
This stretch of beach, owned by county, state and federal governments, falls under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service management plan that does not allow dogs and cats on federally-owned property. Brevard County would be highly vulnerable to a federal Endangered Species Act lawsuit if this plan moves forward and any impacts to sea turtle nests are documented. The Refuge is one of the most heavily studied nesting beaches in Florida, so any predation incidents by dogs would be swiftly recorded.
This year has been a record-breaking year for sea turtle nesting in the Refuge and across the Southeastern U.S. All three species of sea turtles that nest in the Carr Refuge are just starting to show signs of recovery. The Carr Refuge in Brevard County is the worst possible place to allow dogs on the beach.
Although many staff members at STC are dog lovers, we oppose directing dogs to defecate in the very area where people and children take their shoes off and play in the sand. It is highly unsanitary for people and very dangerous for federally-protected sea turtles.
The Brevard County Commission is meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 6 to discuss this proposed plan. Please contact the Brevard County Commissioners listed below and let them know that you oppose opening up the Archie Carr Refuge to dogs.
District 1 Commissioner Rita Pritchett
District 2 Commissioner Bryan Lober (Vice Chair)
District 3 Commissioner John Tobia
District 4 Commissioner Curt Smith
District 5 Commissioner Kristine Isnardi (Chair)
Funded by a portion of revenues from Florida’s Sea Turtle Specialty License Plate, the Sea Turtle Grants Program distributes funds each year to support sea turtle research, conservation and education programs that benefit Florida sea turtles. In 2019, Sea Turtle Conservancy had two project proposals selected for funding.
Green Turtle Seasonal Movements and Group Behavior in Florida’s Big Bend – $27,600.00 awarded
In the Florida Keys, green turtles have showed signs of herding or coordinated movements over seagrass habitat. It’s possible this also occurs in the Big Bend during warmer months (May–September), however, it’s unclear how frequent juvenile green turtles actually associate with each other. This project will use telemetry to determine migratory movements of juvenile green turtles due to changes in water temperatures and investigate localized group behavior during the spring, summer and fall. ARGOS satellite transmitters will be placed on juvenile green turtles that are captured at four different sites in the Big Bend. Their movement patterns will be analyzed using state-space models and ArcGIS spatial analysis tools. The results will help explain large scale seasonal movements as well as small scale group behavior that may be impacted in the future by climate change and the loss of habitat.
Upgrading Sea Turtle Lighting Education Program – $18,930.00 awarded
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) will refurbish and update the traveling lighting displays funded by the grants program in 2014. Since their creation, the displays have successfully been hosted at facilities throughout the state of Florida and have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. The four portable displays have received considerable wear since they were first created and deployed. STC will work with the original graphics company to reprint the panel graphics; add a protective coating on each panel to prevent scratching; and repair and update damaged and outdated fixtures. Once the displays are repaired, STC will re-deploy them in high-traffic locations in southwest Florida, where STC will expand its separately-funded sea turtle lighting retrofit program. STC will also work with a video production company to create a short instructive video to further educate beachfront property owners about the importance of sea turtle lighting and how to be part of the solution. This video will be broadcast to targeted audiences in SW Florida through boosted social media postings.
To learn more about the Sea Turtle Grants program, visit www.helpingseaturtles.org.
Exciting news! Sea Turtle Conservancy’s main office located in Gainesville, FL is moving to a new building! What does this mean for you? Due to the move, STC will have limited or no access to phones from April 17-22 and limited email access April 19-22.
Any gift Shop or Adopt-A-Turtle orders placed after 5 pm (EST) on Wednesday, April 17 will not be processed until Wednesday, April 24.
We appreciate your patience at this busy time!
Our new address is:
Sea Turtle Conservancy
4581 NW 6th Street
Gainesville, FL 32609
All email addresses and phone numbers will remain the same.
Guest blog post by Diane & Linda Randgaard
Our younger sister, Lisa, loved to travel and did so with great joy and wonder. The decline of her physical health from the congenital heart condition she lived with so bravely was a limit she recognized, once noting that her body “wouldn’t be able to keep up with her desire to see the world.”
Lisa found other ways to indulge her wanderlust, and sea turtles helped fill a need in her soul. STC’s annual Tour de Turtles was of particular interest, tracking strong, yet vulnerable, animals that traverse wide swaths of the world’s vast, dangerous oceans. She shared her passion for sea turtles with others and donated to this cause that grew near and dear to her. When Lisa died suddenly at age 43 in May 2012, she left a grieving family that got busy and began fundraising for STC in her honor.
This Holiday Season, we are offering our handmade soaps and other special items to raise $3,000 by January 2019, building on the $100,500 generated since the start of this amazing journey. In 2016, Lisa’s Building, which houses staff and welcomes visitors, was dedicated at the STC outpost in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, a crucial nesting beach for greens and leatherbacks, and 100% of ALL holiday donations goes to the Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund, an unrestricted endowment fund focused on the future of sea turtle conservation.
Lisa’s heart goes on, thanks to the kindness of many wonderful people that share her great love of sea turtles.
THANK YOU and Happy Holidays! Please visit us at LoveIntoSustainedAction.com.
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) would like to give a special congratulations to the winners of our 2019 Sea Turtle Scenes Calendar Contest! All of the photos were truly fantastic. Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter!
The winning photographs will be featured in STC’s 2019 Sea Turtle Scenes Calendar, which will be available online in our gift shop sometime in November. Thank you to all of our participants who made this year’s selection exciting and especially difficult. We received HUNDREDS of submissions! If you missed out on this one, look out for the 2020 photography contest next year!
Here are this year’s winners:
**Cover Image!** Photographer: Ben Hicks
January: Photographer David Randazzo
February: Photographer Karla Morales
March: Photographer Ben Hicks
April: Photographer Guillermo Plaza
May: Photographer Dirk Peterson
June Photographer: Karla G Barrientos Munoz
July: Photographer Hannah Bacalla
August: Photographer Jim Angy
September: Photographer David Randazzo
October: Photographer Mario Cisneros
November: Photographer Jim Angy
December: Photographer Saira Ortega
Over the last five years, the Randgaard family has raised $100,000 for Sea Turtle Conservancy to honor the memory of their beloved youngest daughter and sister, Lisa, who passed away at the age of 43 on May 2, 2012, from complications of her congenital heart condition.
The family helped fund the renovation of The Lisa Randgaard Building in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, to provide safe, eco-friendly housing and office space at this STC research outpost for staff, scientists, volunteers and other visitors.
Fundraising by Lisa’s mom, Jenny, and two sisters, Diane and Linda, centered on building The Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund, includes “Lisa’s Fundanas,” custom sea turtle-themed bandanas, and “Flippery When Wet” homemade soap bars.
When Jenny passed away in October 2016, her daughters knew they gained another angel on their shoulder to guide them in their work. “In addition to our soap bars, we are going to reissue, after heartwarming demand, a limited run of our ‘Lisa’s Fundanas.’ Helping sea turtles is a great way to honor Lisa and Mom.”
To purchase one of “Lisa’s Fundanas” or “Flippery When Wet” soaps, visit www.LoveIntoSustainedAction.com
STC Programs: Research: Assistantships for Sea Turtle Monitoring in Bocas del Toro Region, Panama
Bastimentos Island National Marine Park
Since 2003, Drs. Anne and Peter Meylan have worked in partnership with the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) to monitor important Panamanian sea turtle nesting beaches in the Bocas del Toro Province and the Comarca Ngäbe Buglé, from the Changuinola River to the Chiriquí River. Key among these beaches are three in the Bastimentos Island National Marine Park, Small Zapatilla Cay, Big Zapatilla Cay and Playa Larga. For the 2018 nesting season, they anticipate having up to 6 openings for research assistants to help with this work.
Application Information for Research Assistant Positions
Research Assistantship (RA) positions are voluntary (unpaid) and selected RAs are expected to plan and finance their own travel to and from Bocas del Toro, Panama. Selected RAs will receive board and lodging in small field camps and will be expected to help with cooking and clean-up.
Good knowledge of Spanish and English is required. Applicants with: 1) education in biology or related fields, 2) previous fieldwork with sea turtles, and 3) experience working/living in multicultural environments in isolated locations for extended periods will be most competitive for these positions. Availability for the entirety of one specified time interval for the BINMP program (27 April through 31 July or 25 July through 2 November) is preferred.
STC Alumni RAs have gone on to work for conservation organizations, universities and government agencies worldwide.
Applications for RA positions must include the following materials:
All application materials must be received at our office before or on the deadline listed for each program. Short-listed candidates will be contacted within four weeks of the application deadline. Please do not phone or e-mail to inquire about the status of your application.
Applicants that do not supply all requested materials will not be considered.
2018 BINMP Program Research Assistant Position Information:
Project description: Conservation and monitoring of hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles
Location: Bocas del Toro Province, Bastimentos Island National Marine Park (BINMP)
Dates: Group 1: 27 April – 31 July 2018
Group 2: 25 July – 2 November 2018
Applications will be accepted until all positions are filled.
Since 2003, Anne and Peter Meylan have worked in a partnership with the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) to monitor important Panamanian sea turtle nesting beaches in the Bocas del Toro Province and the Comarca Ngäbe Buglé, from the Changuinola River to the Chiriquí River. Four sea turtle species are found in the waters of Bocas del Toro and the Comarca; Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Green (Chelonia mydas) and Loggerhead (Caretta caretta). Within this region, we have standardized monitoring, research and protection efforts in collaboration with STC and members of local communities close to the nesting beaches. This program has had very positive results. Nearly 1,000 hawksbill nests were recorded in the park in 2017. In the last 14 years, there has been a reduction in the illegal killing of turtles on the majority of nesting beaches in the area, and an increasing nesting trend for both Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles. Despite these advances, numerous threats remain for the sea turtles within and adjacent to BINMP, including increasing pressure on coastal and marine habitats through unregulated tourism development and the continued hunting of turtles for personal consumption and commercial purposes both on the beach and within park waters.
Up to 6 research assistants (RAs) will be trained in sea turtle monitoring techniques by, and work under the supervision of, the Meylans (Eckerd College and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission) and Cristina Ordoñez, STC’s Panama Coordinator. The season is divided into two time periods that together span the majority of the hawksbill nesting season in BINMP: May through July and August through October. The beach monitoring team will be made up of local Panamanians with moderate to extensive experience with the project and RA’s from multiple countries around the world. The primary responsibilities of the RAs will include day time census patrols, night time tagging patrols, and logistic support of all camp activities. Day time patrols include identifying and accurately recording all emergence and nesting activity, marking of nests for future hatching success evaluation, and performing excavations of hatched nests. Night time patrols include tagging and measuring nesting females. All RA’s are expected to contribute to recording data, maintaining the camp, cooking and cleaning, making food trips to town, and other activities in support of the project.
RAs can expect to work very long hours, throughout the day and night, often with little sleep. Beach patrols require walking between 6 to 12 kilometers in soft sand and in extreme weather conditions. Night time patrols are 5 hours long (8 pm – 1 am or 1 am to 6 am). Therefore excellent physical condition is a requirement for the RA positions.
The work will be developed in three different beaches in Bastimentos Island National Marine Park (BINMP): “Small” Zapatilla Cay (Zapatilla Uno), “Big” Zapatilla Cay (Zapatilla Dos), and Long Beach (Playa Larga). RAs will rotate among the three beaches while participating in the sea turtle program and may have an opportunity to work for short periods at other sites in the region.
For additional information about the project and to download an application, visit https://conserveturtles.org/////stc-programs-research-assistantships-sea-turtle-monitoring-bastimentos-island-national-marine-park/
Read STC’s Comments on the Leatherback Status Change Petition (pdf file).
Leatherback sea turtles are ancient, giant reptiles. Named for their unique shells composed of thin rubbery skin, they can dive the deepest and travel the furthest among all seven sea turtle species on earth. Leatherbacks have traveled the globe for millions of years, but they face a number of mostly human-caused threats to their survival and recovery.
One of the greatest threats they face is being accidentally caught by commercial fishing operations. When they are caught underwater in nets or on baited lines, they drown if they can’t reach the surface for air. They can also sustain internal injuries from hooks or external injuries from entanglement, including strangulation or amputation. In October of last year, a New Jersey-based organization representing commercial fishing interests quietly introduced a federal petition to classify the Northwestern Atlantic leatherback population as a distinct population and to change the status of this population under the Endangered Species Act from “endangered” to “threatened.”
In the petition, the group states that the Northwestern Atlantic leatherback population (including leatherbacks that nest in Florida, Costa Rica, and Panama) should be listed as “threatened” because it is “not currently at risk of extinction (i.e., endangered) due to its overall population size.” But the scientific evidence submitted with the petition did not take into account data from 2014 and forward that disputes this claim.
In Florida, leatherback nesting has decreased from 650 to just 200 nests since 2014, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In addition, over the last two decades, STC has documented a severe decline in leatherback nesting at Tortuguero, Costa Rica (see Figure 1). Furthermore, the nesting trend for this species at Chiriqui Beach, Panama, which had shown positive growth over a decade ago, actually shows a slight decline since 2005.
The future of leatherback sea turtles is also at risk due to climate change and global warming. Following a global trend, south Florida sea turtle hatchlings are becoming increasingly female due to warmer-than-average sand temperatures. Hot sand is also causing turtle embryos to overheat in their nests at STC’s research sites in Panama, reducing the hatching success rate to less than 20 percent in many areas monitored by STC.
If this population of leatherback sea turtles is downgraded to “threatened,” STC worries that commercial fisheries and other industries will take less care in reducing incidental “take,” or the accidental killing of leatherback sea turtles, and federal authorities will be less focused on the urgency with which this species needs protection.
NOAA is accepting public comment on this petition. STC will be making formal comments based on our own scientific data; however, anyone interested in sharing their opinion on the topic may do so online by visiting this site: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=NOAA-NMFS-2017-0147-0001. We hope STC members will ask the federal government to reject this petition and keep leatherback sea turtles listed as “endangered” so they benefit from full protection under the Endangered Species Act.