University of Central Florida’s Marine Turtle Research Group Gets Boost with Gift of New Boat
By UCF Knights // March 4, 2022
new boat will help continue critical studies on biology, ecology, behavior and conservation of sea turtles
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – Thanks to a trio of donors with a passion for supporting the state’s marine life, the University of Central Florida’s Marine Turtle Research Group has received a new, specially-outfitted boat that provides improved safety and research capabilities for the team.
The new boat will help MTRG continue its critical studies on the biology, ecology, behavior, and conservation of sea turtles across all life stages — from eggs to adults — which it has been conducting across the globe for more than four decades.
A new 17-foot Boston Whaler 170 Guardian was provided to MTRG by donations from the Folke H. Peterson Foundation and the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation and made possible through a purchase discount from Brunswick Commercial & Government Products, the parent company of Boston Whaler.
The boat replaces one of three in MTRG’s fleet — a 1976 craft reaching the end of its lifespan.
“MTRG has been providing critical insights into the habits and behaviors of sea turtles for decades, and we still have so much more to learn,” said Larry Wood, research coordinator for the National Save the Turtle Foundation.
“We are excited to partner with them and play a part in furthering their research.”
The boat is designed to enhance the team’s research and conservation capabilities, providing additional balancing and buoyancy along with features that will aid in interacting with sea turtles on the water.
For instance, hauling aboard full-grown turtles that can weigh hundreds of pounds takes coordination, and a heavy, soggy net on the bow can skew a boat’s balance.
The boat was manufactured without accessories like coolers or fishing rod holders — items that could potentially snag the nets used – which measure more than a quarter of a mile at nearly 1,500 feet in length.
Twice a month, the MTRG team of faculty and students launches its trio of boats into the Indian River Lagoon where they safely capture, measure, examine, tag, and release turtles back into the water.
This work helps the team monitor sea turtle health in the lagoon, including research examining disease ecology, the effects of harmful algal blooms on turtle diet, and long-term population trends of Florida’s turtles.
Most of the turtles studied by MTRG are green turtles and loggerheads, and the ones they net in the Indian River Lagoon are almost exclusively juvenile in age. Annually, the MTRG tags and releases an estimated 150-200 turtles as part of this project.
“The new boat is an essential tool for undergraduate and graduate research,” said Associate Professor Kate Mansfield, the director of the MTRG.
“And we’re grateful to have a safe, sturdy, and balanced boat that can handle our team, our heavy net, and the sea turtles we catch and release.”
In recent years, MTRG published groundbreaking studies that help explain where young oceanic juvenile turtles go during their “lost years” — the time between when a hatchling leaves the nest and when it returns to the area as a larger coastal juvenile.
MTRG’s tracking work showed that some loggerhead and green turtles hatching from Florida’s Atlantic coast travel to the Sargasso Sea, an area in the North Atlantic framed by four ocean currents, where Sargassum seaweed is abundant and provides food and shelter for a turtle’s first years of life.
The program also studies nesting sites on Florida’s beaches and tracks turtle movements in the Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian oceans.
“Boston Whaler and the Brunswick Commercial & Government Products Group supports environmental resource management and research efforts around the world,” said Kris Neff, president of Boston Whaler.
“Our boats are ideally designed to handle the rigors and long-term serviceability of demanding applications, so we are confident that we are helping make a difference. Supporting the University of Central Florida and the Marine Turtle Research Group is particularly satisfying because we are a Florida-based company, and because conserving sea life directly aligns with our customer’s interests as boaters.”
CLICK HERE FOR BREVARD COUNTY NEWS