Science Wednesday: Giving Sea Turtles a Head Start

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.