A project of Florida Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit in conjunction with the partners and sponsors detailed below.
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Temperature is one of the most important and influential factors when considering the ecology of reptilian species. Reptiles, such as sea turtles, depend on ambient temperature to regulate their body?s core temperature. For the past three years, decreases in water temperatures in the northern Gulf of Mexico have caused hypothermic stranding events along the Florida Panhandle. The presence of juvenile turtles in these waters during this time of year suggests that these turtles overwinter in this area and enter a torpid state once water temperatures decrease below an unspecified threshold temperature. Once the water temperatures dropped even further, hypothermic stunning ensues and the turtles are not able to maintain their torpid state. Further research is needed to fully understand the behavior of juvenile sea turtles as water temperatures decrease. Population models have suggested that the most crucial stages for sea turtle population recovery include juveniles and fully understanding their complete life strategies are key to conserving these endangered and threatened species.
In January of 2004, satellite and sonic transmitters were deployed on four juvenile green turtles from St. Joseph Bay, Florida. These turtles ranged from 32 cm to 54 cm straight carapace length. All turtles were found stranded in St. Joseph Bay on January 11th due to abnormally low water temperatures of about 10C. Turtles were taken to a rehabilitation facility and then released on January 15th. We will track the movements of these juveniles to examine their overwintering habits, as well as their ability to recover from stranding caused by hypothermic stunning.
This project is conducted by the Florida Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Florida. Assistance has been provided by University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group, as well as the Southwest Fisheries Science Center of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Financial support has been provided by the Florida Marine Turtle Grant, Project AWARE Foundation, and the Natural Resources Division of Eglin Air Force Base. Special thanks to BAE Personnel at Site D3 on Cape San Blas!