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Science Wednesday: Giving Sea Turtles a Head Start

2008 August 20

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Sandy Raimondo is a research ecologist with the Office of Research and Development in Gulf Breeze, FL. She joined EPA in 2003 and models potential effects of toxicants on organisms and populations.

Close up of Loggerhead Sea TurtleIt’s a big ocean out there, little turtles! May the safety in numbers be with you.

Last evening I witnessed young loggerhead sea turtles emerge from their nest and swim off into the dark Gulf of Mexico that would be their home for the next 50 years or so. As a volunteer for the National Park Service, I was there to help hatchling sea turtles that might become disoriented by all of our shiny light pollution and head in the wrong direction after emerging. Without a doubt, it was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

I woke up this morning a groggy, happy camper and came to work, where I sit at a computer and model what-if scenarios involving pollution of the toxicological variety. If such-and-such happens and we do this or that, this could be the outcome. For as disconnected as the beauty of sea turtle hatching and computer modeling may seem to some people, this morning it was crystal clear to me. Several years ago I was reading some papers on population modeling and one on loggerheads stood out in my mind. Based on the results of their modeling, the authors offered suggestions on how to aid the conservation of the threatened species by focusing efforts on particular life stages. The results of these models have helped to guide national efforts to keep these amazing animals from becoming extinct.

Author releasing Loggerhead Sea TurtleIt would be awesome if spending time with sea turtles was part of my job and I could go out at night and call it “just another day at the office.” But what if the modelers of loggerheads would have said that 20 years ago, and never took the time to sit in front of their computer to play with numbers? Maybe 20 years from now some bright-eyed volunteer will be out in an estuary somewhere and marvel at the diversity of life and the health of the water. That would be awesome too. And maybe somewhere in their subconscious they’ll even thank the people who sat at a computer to help keep it that way.

Learn more about sea turtles and their conservation.

Sneak preview: from sea-going reptiles to forest-dwelling mammals…
Aaron Ferster here. Next week, we’ll be coming to you from the forests of Connecticut. Monday, we’ll be using Twitter to send updates from the field as a team of researchers surveys small mammal populations. They’re studying the links between the landscape, biodiversity, and human health. Wednesday, we’ll post a full update here in Greenversations.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    August 20, 2008

    Thanks for volunteering your time to help keep the oceans’ diversity intact.

  2. Mary Ann permalink
    August 20, 2008

    Forgive the side-step from science toward poetry, but your entry reminded me of a poem by Kay Ryan, our country’s newest Poet Laureate. The poem is titled “Turtle.” It begins:

    Who would be a turtle who could help it?
    A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
    She can ill afford the chances she must take
    In rowing toward the grasses that she eats.

    Full poem

    It’s a wonderful piece. Give it a read. There are many ways to inspire participation and conservation, are there not?

  3. Karen permalink
    August 20, 2008

    And thanks for all the work you do to make this a better planet!

  4. Melissa permalink
    April 16, 2009

    Wow that experience sounds so amazing! And I love the picture, too! They are so tiny when you’re young!

    On a totally different topic, I was wondering if you could possibly give me some advice. I’m a college student in Michigan who is going into chemistry / environmental sciences and lately I have been feeling the need to actually talk to someone in the field that I would like to work in. I would actually love to eventually be an EPA employee, but don’t know anyone that is.

    My question is, how did you prepare for the career you now have today, and what advice do you have for college students hoping to work in the environmental protection field?

    Thanks for your time – I’m sure you’re models keep you extremely busy so I appreciate the reply when possibly

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