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Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtle Night Research: Week 2 and Endarteritis Project

The loggerheads and greens are coming in waves at the moment here on Juno. Unfortunately due to the soft, dry sand from a lack of rain, many of them have false crawled, meaning they come up the beach but return without nesting. With that said, we have eclipsed 10,000 nests and stand at 10,236!!! We have had 8,117 loggerhead and 1,940 green nests to go along with 179 leatherbacks.

Loggerhead turtle are known for their massive heads compared to the other species of marine turtles. (Photo: Derek Aoki)

Even with the conditions, night crew has had their hands full with turtles this past week, trying to get as many nesting females as we can. USF master student Aleah Ataman is still hard at work in her quest to document the number of nesting turtles with unintentional boat strike injuries, and LMC’s Justin Perrault, Sarah Hirsch, and Derek Aoki are out conducting metabolomics, EDC (toxicology), and endarteritis projects.

Cherry, the loggerhead, is seen covering her clutch after the night crew finished their sampling. (Photo: Derek Aoki)
Raspberry seen before she starts to front flipper cover, meaning she will use her front flippers to spray sand behind her to disguise the clutch. (Photo: Derek Aoki)

Each week we are highlighting an on-going research project for this season, and this week is our endarteritis project. Endarteritis is the inflammation of the aorta that is caused by spirochids, which is a type of blood fluke. Led by Sarah Hirsch, LMC’s Data Manager, our goal for this project is to see if she can detect the condition in live, nesting turtles using ultrasound images of the aorta, and then see what percentage of our population is living with this condition. Previous studies have only identified this disease postmortem.

Data Manager Sarah Hirsch takes an ultrasound image of a nesting female to detect any signs of endarteritis. (Photo: Derek Aoki)

Once we encounter a nesting loggerhead, we will wait for the turtle to lay 30-40 eggs before proceeding our work up because they can scare easily and stop their laying process. The ultrasound image is taken on the left shoulder of the nesting turtle, while another member takes a blood sample, tags, and takes measurements. The nest is also marked so we can gather information on the turtle’s reproductive success.

Thats all for the second week loggerhead and green night work! Tune in next week to read up on any new developments as well as another research project!!

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.