SPCMSC scientists study effects of beach nourishment on sea turtle nesting activity

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Scientists RC Mickey and Dave Thompson from the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center wrap up a season of conducting beach surveys to study influences of beach nourishment on sea turtle nesting.

A utility task vehicle on a beach with a calm ocean in the background at sunrise. A sea turtle track extends towards the water

Scientists RC Mickey and Dave Thompson from the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center conduct beach surveys on nourished beaches to study influences on sea turtle nesting. The scientists use a utility task vehicle (UTV) to cover a large area of beach and locate sea turtle crawls. Here, a turtle track can be seen extending down to the ocean. (Credit: David Thompson, USGS. Public domain.)

Scientists RC Mickey and Dave Thompson from the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center have been conducting surveys all summer on nourished beaches (where sand has been added) on Florida’s Atlantic Coast beaches to study influences of beach nourishment on green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nesting. The next two weeks of surveys will be the final round of data collection for this season.

This is year four of the five-year collaborative study investigating sea turtle nesting on recently nourished beaches. The primary goal is to quantify beach parameters that may influence sea turtle nesting on nourished beaches, as these beaches typically display rapid reshaping (2 to 3 years) by ocean waves. The results of the study can then be used to suggest improvements for beach nourishment designs to minimize impacts to sea turtle nesting.

USGS's role is to map the beach profile (position and elevation) from the water line into the dune, and map turtle crawl paths at nesting decision locations using precise GPS measurements. These GPS surveys are conducted monthly for two consecutive days during May through September, the height of sea turtle nesting season. The surveys have been conducted at four nourished beaches that also have a high-density of sea turtle nesting sites, including Melbourne Beach, Jensen Beach, Jupiter Island, and Juno Beach. The GPS data is processed to quantify various beach parameters; including water line, dune toe, dune top, and locations of nests or false crawl apex (landward point to where a turtle reached but decided not to nest) locations.

USGS is working with partners at U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and University of South Florida (USF) on this National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) funded study.

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