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Sea turtle research in peril

Sea turtle research in peril

Volunteers

There’s a perfect storm brewing and it could impact what we know about sea turtle nesting on a global scale.

Funding for important sea turtle research at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Merritt Island is in danger of disappearing, along with valuable knowledge on the nesting, migration and survival behaviors of sea turtles.

In the past year, several sources of funding of a 35-year-old sea turtle nesting research project have dried up, leaving a $50,000 void.

Brandon Smith is the President of the Friends of the Carr Refuge, a nonprofit group of about             145 members who support sea turtle nesting on the 20.5 miles along the refuge’s coast. The group backs the sea turtle research financially and through volunteer hours that handle everything from repairing beach vehicles to creating and distributing information on the refuge.

Smith has served on the board since its inception in 2010 and says that all the invaluable data collected at the refuge during sea turtle nesting season is in danger of simply not existing.

“There were several sources of money that dried up at the same time. Some were federal funds from U.S. Fish and Wildlife that were lost due to budget cuts and there was also beach re-nourishment monitoring money received from the county whose time period for funding ended last year,” Smith said. “There was a devastating combination of local, county, state and federal grants and funds that weren’t available this year.”

That $50,000 number is what Friends of the Carr Refuge is working hard to raise to keep sea turtle research afloat this year and raise awareness of needed funding for future years. The money funds a specific program overseen by the University of Central Florida’s Marine Turtle Research Group. The researchers collect data on the nesting sea turtle population at the Carr Refuge and meticulously record things like number of nests, migration patterns and more. UCF scientists began monitoring sea turtle nesting at the Carr Refuge in 1983 — making 2017 the 35th consecutive season of data collection.

All that hard work has led to some important discoveries that are bolstering what people know and understand about sea turtles worldwide. The Carr Refuge is home to the largest loggerhead sea turtle nesting site in the Western Hemisphere and the highest density of green sea turtles in North America. Both species are classified as “threatened” in the Atlantic Ocean, and endangered in other parts of the world. The refuge marks the northernmost point of travel for leatherback sea turtles, endangered worldwide, as well. Smith says that 27,000 sea turtles nest at the Carr Refuge every season.

At the start of sea turtle nesting season on May 1, Friends of the Carr Refuge had raised $25,000 of the goal, including a $5,000 donation from the Sea Turtle Preservation Society. Researchers arrived as scheduled but with what Smith calls a “bare bones” plan in place that excluded night time sea turtle walks. The organization hopes to raise the additional $25,000 through donations to keep the researchers at the Carr Refuge until the end of sea turtle nesting season on Oct. 31.

If the funding is not in place, the scientists cannot collect data, resulting in an incomplete picture of sea turtle behavior this season. That would be especially devastating this year, Smith said, because information on how Hurricane Matthew impacted sea turtle nesting is an asset to understanding the reptiles’ life cycles.

“The refuge endured some damage during Hurricane Matthew. There will be some funding returned there, too, for that, but it takes a while to receive it,” Smith said. “In the meantime, it’s important to know how that storm system impacted the sea turtle population.”

In addition to raising the funds through private and business donations, Friend of the Carr Refuge is advocating for future funding from federal, state and county sources and is working alongside other nonprofit organizations to secure the needed money for this year, and coming years.

“If we can just let people know exactly what their donation funds do then we know we’ll find those who support this cause,” Smith said.

If you are interested in donating to the cause or becoming a member of Friends of the Carr Refuge, visit www.CarrRefuge.org.

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