LMC Research Department
For those who may not be familiar, Loggerhead Marinelife Center is a conservation organization based out of Juno Beach, Florida committed to the conservation of Florida’s coastal ecosystems with a special focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles. The center is comprised of three core competencies; sea turtle rehabilitation, education and research. The research department tends to be the least focal of the work we do at the center as the majority of the work occurs in the field or “behind the scenes.” Although not as well known, the work being done in the research department is extremely important as this is how we are continuing to learn more and more about these animals to assist with long-term, global conservation efforts.
The research department at LMC is under the direction of Dr. Charles Manire. Supporting staff include Adrienne McCracken (Field Operations Manager), Sarah Hirsch (Data Manager) along with, depending on the time up year, up to eight seasonal staff members. The team is supported by the center’s Research and Rehabilitation Committee which consists of the following industry professionals:
- Jodie Gless, Biologist, Florida Power & Light
- Dr. Kim Koger, Surgeon, Koger Cosmetic Clinic & Med Spa
- Karen Marcus, Consultant, Former Palm Beach County Commissioner
- Dr. Brian Paegel, Assistant Professor, Scripps Florida
- Dr. Michael Salmon, Professor, Florida Atlantic University
- Dr. Jeanette Wyneken, Professor, Florida Atlantic University
The LMC research team monitors 9.5 miles of beach each nesting season (March 1-October 31) from MacArthur Park, north up to Jupiter Island. Palm Beach County beaches are among the most densely nested in the United States with leatherback, loggerhead and green turtles nesting each season.
If you spend time on the North County beaches in the early morning during sea turtle nesting season, chances are that you have seen our research team at work. Each morning the team is on the beach at first light to survey and document all nesting activity from the previous night. Nesting surveys are conducted throughout the state of Florida to track the reproductive activities of sea turtles. The number of nests and nesting attempts can help researchers gain a better understanding of reproductive behavior, and over time, help determine the overall health of the population by establishing nesting trends.
2013 was a very successful nesting season and a record breaking year for green turtles on our local beaches, with 4,689 nests in our survey area. In addition, there were 8,095 loggerhead nests documented and 123 leatherback nests. 2014 is already looking to be a very promising year as well, but it’s still very early in the season. As of June 2nd, the following nests have been documented for each species in our survey area:
- Leatherback-180 nests (surpassed the 2013 total)
- Loggerhead-2,027 nests (Currently on track to surpass record year set in 2012)
- Green-2 nests (Green turtle nesting season is just beginning)
Below is an image of a leatherback orientation circle observed by staff biologists while conducting a morning nest survey. The circles are made by a leatherback after she has successfully nested; however, they are not always created. Researchers have conflicting theories as to why the leatherback turtles do this. It’s believed that it may be part of their camouflaging technique to disguise the nesting, or possibly just a way for them to re-orient properly to the waterline. Either way, as Field Ops Manager, Adrienne McCracken states, “They add a nice artistic flair to a leatherback crawl!” Leatherback nest numbers in Palm Beach County have been increasing since the late 1990’s and currently account for nearly 40% of all leatherback nests in the state of Florida. In an effort to gain a better understanding of the nesting leatherback population in the area, LMC developed a long-term project (Leatherback Project) in 2001 to study these animals. Since 2001, the project has expanded to include studies on migration, health, reproductive behavior, contaminants, threats and genetics. The continuation of long-term data collection is essential to gain a better understanding of these animals and assist with the development of appropriate conservation efforts, policy and management programs.
To learn more about the center’s research programs visit our website at www.marinelife.org/research or visit the center and view the research exhibits in our Exhibit Hall.
If you live or are planning to visit the Palm Beach County area, I encourage you to visit LMC to learn more about sea turtles. During the months of June and July, we offer an opportunity for the general public to join us on the beach and observe the egg-laying process of loggerhead sea turtles. This is a truly a memorable experience that I highly recommend. To learn more visit www.marinelife.org/turtlewalk.