Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtle Night Research: Week 3 Update and Blood Analysis

Hopefully everyone had a wonderful and safe 4th of July week! With the rain that fell on Juno this past weekend, nesting activity for loggerheads and greens picked back up, giving the night crew ample opportunities to sample and tag. We received 2,449 nests this past week, bringing our total to 12,685. We have 9,711 loggerhead, 2,793 green, and 181 leatherback nests!!

Loggerheads dig a ‘body pit,’ which is essentially a small hole where they settle in and lay their clutch. (Photo: Derek Aoki)
Heather S. as she finishes laying her clutch. This turtle was used for USF’s Aleah Ataman’s injury study, but showed no signs of a boat strike! (Photo: Derek Aoki)

The metabolomics and EDC toxicology projects are coming along, as Director of Research Justin Perrault and Data Manager Sarah Hirsch patrol the beach for nesting mamas to sample. Like the endarteritis project, both of these require a blood draw from the turtle, which is taken back to our office for processing. The blood is spun in a centrifuge, as with all our analyses, for 10 minutes to separate the whole blood into its three components. The top layer is a clear solution of plasma, which we collect for all our studies as it holds the proteins and other nutrients used in our analyses. There is a thin layer called the buffy coat, which is the while blood cells mixed with platelets, and the bottom layer is made up of red blood cells.

An ‘inside’ look at a loggerhead’s egg chamber. She digs a circular chamber with her two back flippers roughly 45 cm (18 in.) deep and deposits, on average, 100-120 eggs! (Photo: Derek Aoki)

However, how we collect the blood differs for both projects. For the metabolomics study, we need to aliquot, or divide, the blood into cryovials as soon as possible after the sample has been taken and immersed into liquid nitrogen so it is flash frozen for the analysis. And regarding the EDC project, once the blood is spun and separated, we use glass pipettes to aliquot the plasma because it cannot touch plastic as it is transfered to the cryovials for further analysis.

That’s a wrap for this week’s night work! We’ll leave you with some lighter content: hatchlings!!! Baby turtle are hatching nightly, so mind your feet when walking on the beach at night, and you might witness the spectacle of little turtles scurry into the ocean!

Tiny loggerhead hatchlings, and one leatherback, navigate the sargassum to reach the sea. (Photo: Derek Aoki)

Thanks for reading and we’ll have more news and updates next week!!

Disclaimer: All marine turtle images taken in Florida were obtained with the approval of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) under conditions not harmful to this or other turtles. Images were acquired while conducting authorized research activities pursuant to FWC MTP-19-205.