LMC Receives Avantor Foundation Grant For Research on Stable Isotopes in Nesting Leatherbacks

Loggerhead Marinelife Center researches stable isotopes in nesting leatherbacks.
LMC researchers measure nesting turtles to examine growth rates and document habitual nesting turtles. Photo captured by LMC research biologists under FWC permit.

In order to further research on nesting sea turtles and their migratory movements, Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) applied and received a grant through the Avantor Foundation to examine stable isotopes in nesting leatherback sea turtles. The Avantor Foundation supports organizations and programs in alignment with research, health, well-being, and science education. This is a collaborative effort between LMC, Florida Atlantic University, and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Using Stable Isotopes

LMC’s researchers are examining stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen, which will provide detailed information about the animals’ diet, movements and habitat use. Used as a tool for researchers, stable isotopes allow researchers to gather information stored in the animals’ tissues (e.g. skin and blood). This increasingly popular technique has recently helped sea turtle biologists understand the diet and migratory movements (where sea turtles travel prior to nesting) of different sea turtle species.

A major goal of this project is to use stable isotopes to better understand some of the large scale movements of leatherbacks nesting in Juno Beach, FL and the level of variation within our nesting population. For example, leatherbacks that forage in different parts of the Atlantics Ocean will show different isotopic signatures (ratios of nitrogen and carbon).

Loggerhead Marinelife Center researches stable isotopes in nesting leatherbacks.
LMC researchers collect a blood sample from the right rear flipper from a nesting leatherback sea turtle. Photo captured by LMC research biologists under FWC permit.

Furthering Sea Turtle Migration Research

“We can learn a lot about an animal from its unique elemental signatures found in its tissues,” said Dr. Justin Perrault, LMC’s Director of Research. In using stable isotopes, we hope to determine the location(s) where leatherbacks forage prior to their arrival at Florida’s nesting beaches. These techniques are less expensive than satellite telemetry, and will allow us to study many more animals at a time.”

Our researchers hope to also use the samples collected from leatherback sea turtles to grasp the variations in the oceanographic processes found in the North Atlantic Ocean. Stable isotopes can be a powerful tool for science, however, interpreted results can be complicated. With this research, our team will be able to make recommendations for researchers hoping to use this technique for Atlantic leatherback turtles in the future.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center researches stable isotopes in nesting leatherbacks.
A leatherback sea turtle lays a clutch of eggs on local South Florida beaches. Photo captured by LMC research biologists under FWC permit.

Nesting Leatherback Sea Turtles

The 9.5-mile stretch of beach that LMC researchers monitor annually welcomes nesting leatherback sea turtles. From January through March, leatherbacks begin to breed preparing to lay eggs in March, April and May. LMC’s researchers will begin to regularly monitor local beaches beginning on March 1st through October 31st (the official sea turtle nesting season). During the 2019 nesting season, LMC researchers recorded and protected 187 nests on our local South Florida stretch of beach. As LMC researchers document the 2020 season, they will provide their insights on our Leatherback Project blog.

Since 2001, LMC’s research team has cataloged and studied our local leatherback sea turtle population, which has resulted in a robust leatherback sea turtle dataset. Palm Beach County beaches account for approximately thirty percent of leatherback nests laid in the state of Florida, making these beaches crucial nesting habitat for leatherback turtles. The continuation of long-term data collection is essential in determining and improving the health of the Atlantic leatherback population. 

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Media Contact:

Lauren Eissey, Public Relations and Engagement Specialist

561-627-8280, x124

leissey@marinelife.org