Q&A with Leatherback Researcher Javier Velasco

Javier Velasco

A: Closer Look at the Field Research Being Done on Juno Beach

We sat down with researcher Javier Velasco to find out more about what he’s studying right here on Juno Beach. Javier is a graduate research assistant, pursuing his PhD in Molecular and Environmental Toxicology at the University of Wisconsin. Working with Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s research biologists and the amazing leatherback data they have collected over the past decade, Javier is spending his second year on our local beaches conducting important research.

Q: What is it that you are studying while visiting Loggerhead Marinelife Center?
I am studying the relationship between the chemicals leatherback sea turtles ingest (tar, plastic, etc.) and the eggs they lay. Leatherbacks have the worst nest success rate of all sea turtle species. I want to know if that is due to a transference of certain chemicals from the mother, or if the surrounding environment is causing the reduced success rate.

Q: What is unique about the stretch of beach LMC monitors?
LMC is home to one of the only leatherback nesting beaches in the U.S., and the data collected here is relatively new. Also, studying here gives me access to an astounding 11 years of leatherback data compiled by LMC researchers. Another unique thing about the beach adjacent to the center is that there are three species of sea turtles nesting here!

Q: What is the single biggest threat to sea turtles?
Humans. There is a lack of education out there, and damage can be done to sea turtle nests as a result. Interaction with boat traffic is another thing threatening their survival.

Q: What is the most fascinating thing to you about sea turtles?
I particularly admire the leatherbacks. To me, they are the most interesting. It amazes me how they’ve survived for millions of years and adapted to their environment. It’s sad to think that we can be their biggest threat to existence after overcoming so much.

Q: When do you expect to finish your project?
I still have two to three years until all the data is collected and analyzed. I plan to release at least four publications highlighting the results and effects of toxicology on sea turtle nests. I want to identify the number one cause of reduced hatchling success in leatherback nests and pass that information along to other organizations with possible solutions on how to reverse the trend.

Q: What steps are you taking to let people know what you are doing on the beach?
When someone approaches me and asks a question, I take the time to stop and talk to them about my research, show the paperwork that authorizes me to work with the nests out there, and communicate with them until they feel comfortable.

Q: What is the question you are most often asked?
Who are you with and what are you doing? People in this area are very knowledgeable and protective of the sea turtles. They see me digging and without an ATV nearby, so they what to know what is going on. When I speak to them they ultimately become really interested in the work I am doing.

Q: How long have you been working on this project?
I have been working with Dr. Porter at the University of Wisconsin on this project since January 2009. Two summers ago we designed the project and I have been conducting research ever since.

Q: What are your future plans?
My goal is to become a professor and teach biochemistry at a university. I would love to find myself in a coastal location where I can continue my work. My dream would be to live in Queensland, Australia and study the Great Barrier Reef.

Q: What are your top three conservation tips?
Respect all animals because they were here first.
2. Change your mentality. Stop thinking that animals should go somewhere else when you invade their habitat.
3. Don’t pollute the oceans or our planet.