A Mission to Save Sea Turtles

Story by Zenaida Kotala

Sea turtles have been a major component of keeping the world’s oceans healthy for more than 100 million years. With many of the species being endangered or threatened, University of Central Florida researchers are continuing to do grueling research to help expand our knowledge of these creatures.

June 16 was World Sea Turtle Day, which is a day set aside for raising awareness about sea turtles. It has special significance for Florida because it coincides with conservationist Archie Carr’s birthday. He was one of the first to conduct sea turtle research.

Archie Carr National Refuge on the East Coast of Florida is named in his honor. The UCF team has a full-scale monitoring program at the refuge because its beaches are some of the most important nesting grounds for green and loggerhead sea turtles in North America.

UCF has had a monitoring program since the 1970s adding to the understanding of scientific knowledge of green and loggerhead sea turtles, which are both endangered. It was the group’s work that helped make a case for establishing the national refuge.

Friends of Carr Refuge, a nonprofit citizen-volunteer group, this month donated $25,000 to the UCF group to continue its summer work, which includes daily monitoring of beaches for nests at the Archie Carr Refuge and beaches northward to Patrick Air Force Base near Satellite Beach. The work also includes nightly monitoring during the nesting season to observe and document sea turtles coming onshore to lay eggs.

“As a friends group for a National Wildlife Refuge, our mission is ‘to promote the conservation of sea turtles and natural resources of the Archie Carr NWR and engage in such educational, scientific partnership and civic activities as will support the mission of the refuge,’ said Vince Lamb, treasurer for the group. “We feel strongly that continuing the nest monitoring and associated research that UCF has performed for 35 years fits well with our mission.”

The nonprofit organization held various fundraisers including a sea turtle nesting celebration to raise the money for UCF.

“The relationship between the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and the University of Central Florida is unique,” Lamb said. “This refuge would not exist without the turtle-monitoring work that UCF performed before the refuge was established. Since the Carr Refuge was established in 1991, the refuge has become the most important nesting beach for loggerhead turtles in the world and the most important nesting beach for green turtles in North America.  The Friends of the Carr Refuge members are pleased to be able to help both UCF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

The Marine Turtle Research Group, which includes professors, scientists, researchers and students, also conducts research in the Indian River Lagoon to monitor the health of juvenile green sea turtles that feed in the waterway. Twice a year the members count turtles in the Trident Basin near Port Canaveral.

“We are so very grateful to the friends of Archie Carr,” said UCF assistant biology professor Kate Mansfield, who leads the research group. “We are dedicated to helping increase the understanding of sea turtles so we can help conserve these amazing creatures for generations to come.”

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