Sea Turtle Conference Allows Researchers to Learn and Compare Notes

This post was contributed by Wellfleet Bay sea turtle research associate Karen Dourdeville.

Recently, I was fortunate to be able to attend the International Sea Turtle Society Symposium, in Charleston, SC, one of the largest sea turtle meetings in the world.

The annual symposium is truly an international event, and it’s exciting and invigorating to meet “sea turtle people” from many different countries and to hear about some of the good science occurring with sea turtles all over the world.  The symposium also drives home the urgent conservation needs that many sea turtle populations are facing.  Attendees are very interested in research here in the northwest Atlantic sea turtle feeding grounds—which include the waters of the Cape and Islands.

Karen Dourdeville (right) at the Sea Turtle Society Symposium with New England Aquarium sea turtle rescue partners, Connie Merigo (left) and Linda Lory
(far left).

One big plus from the symposium is looking for new ways that WBWS sea turtle work can be put to research/conservation use, such as possibly contributing samples from our dead cold-stuns toward a study of a blood test for sexing sea turtles. At the moment, determining the sex of an immature sea turtle generally can’t be done unless the turtle is necropsied.

I attended two workshops. One focused on learning more about male sea turtles, which are difficult to study because they don’t come ashore to nest. Research on males would help give a better picture of overall sex ratios and male reproductive behavior, both of which are crucial to achieving a sustainable sea turtle population.

The other workshop discussed proposed changes to the US Endangered Species Act, which has protected many species, including sea turtles, since the act was passed in 1973. These changes could take effect as early as this summer. One of the biggest changes under consideration would weaken the definition of a “take”, that is, the number of turtles injured or killed, for instance, as by-catch in commercial fishing or human activity on nesting beaches.

Despite some of the sobering news on the conservation front, it was gratifying to talk to staff from different sea turtle rehab facilities who care for some of the Cape Cod cold-stuns. Five of our cold-stunned loggerheads are in rehab at the South Carolina Aquarium, and hopefully they will all be released in the coming months.

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