Since 2012, IRG has been exploring the coastal waters of Florida’s Big Bend region. Without sandy beaches and no sea turtle nesting, the area has been overlooked in sea turtle conservation. However, the region’s vast seagrass beds, sponges, and rocky outcroppings are attractive for multiple species and sizes of sea turtles. Primarily working in the waters near Crystal River, FL IRG has captured almost 400 turtles across four different species, with Kemp’s ridley and green turtles being the most abundant. Visual surveys and low recapture rates suggest some of the highest sea turtle densities IRG has ever documented. IRG’s ability to consistently capture turtles at this study site has led to partnerships with researchers from across the United States. These researchers have collected data to study sea turtle health, disease prevalence, movement, and more. The vast seagrass beds are relatively undisturbed and provide plentiful foraging for green turtles in the area. We expected the turtles to be in pristine health. However, IRG has documented fibropapillomatosis, a viral disease that affects sea turtle heath, in 70% of the green turtles. The rate is higher than sites where polluted waters are thought to promote the disease. We are currently working with our collaborators to better understand why so many green turtles are affected by fibropapillomatosis here. The Big Bend’s waters are vast and each trip brings new insights and even more questions. IRG’s research in the Big Bend has been supported by multiple funding agencies since its inception. In 2017 it was supported by Brevard Zoo’s Women of the Wild, Gulf of Mexico Alliance – Gulf Star Program, and by the Sea Turtle Grants Program (Grant #14-045R). The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at helpingseaturtles.org.
Big BendN H2022-10-13T18:33:58-04:00