Marine Biology Camp: Conservation + Sea Turtles

January 27th, 2016

Join us for a summer adventure at Sea Turtle Camp! Teens enjoy a hands-on, feet-wet marine biology adventures. While at camp, our teen participants learn about marine science, the ocean, and the sea turtles that call it home! 11700813_10153437822101411_5016078302218749382_o

Campers learn how to conserve this precious resource, through our experiential marine biology program. Activities include a wide range of topics, covering marine mammals, conservation, and of course sea turtles!

Our campers also visit the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

At the sea turtle hospital, they care for ill and injured sea turtles, helping the turtles make their way to recovery. Over 98% of the sea turtles cared for at the hospital eventually return to the sea! These experiences at Sea Turtle Camp influence campers to protect sea turtles and the environment.Marine-Biology-Leatherback-Hatchling

About Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are large, air breathing reptiles that live in sub-tropical and tropical waters around the world. Leatherback sea turtles also migrate through sub-arctic waters.

They belong to the class Reptilia which also encompasses snakes, lizards, crocodiles and dinosaurs – their ancient relatives!

Millions of years ago, reptiles were one of the first animals to live outside of the water, on land. These reptiles, like whales and dolphins, later returned to the sea. Therefore, many turtle characteristics result from these animals being adapted to life on land.

The sea turtle’s Reptilian characteristics include:

– Vertebral or spinal column: Reptiles are vertebrates, just like birds and mammals. They must have a spinal column to support their body weight.

– Scales: Aid in armoring the body and preventing water loss. Leatherback sea turtles are the exception.

– Air Breathers: Sea turtles do not have gills. All reptiles, like humans need to breathe air in order to survive.

– Ectothermic: Reptiles can’t control their body temperature internally, so the external environment largely determines their body temperature.

– Internal Fertilization: Sperm fertilize the egg inside the female. Many reptiles lay eggs, including all species of sea turtle.

Many of our campers strive to become future marine biologists. Campers are encouraged to keep learning about sea turtles through research and volunteer opportunities. There is a lot out there for us to do!

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A Record Year for the Florida Green Sea Turtle

January 8th, 2016

Adult green turtles are unique among sea turtles.  They are the largest of all the hard-shelled sea turtles, yet have a comparatively small head.  Additionally, as adults they eat only plants. These herbivores feed primarily on seagrasses and algae, a diet that is thought to give them their greenish-colored fat, from which they get their name (NOAA Fisheries, 2015).


Green Sea Turtle Hatchling at Archie Carr NWR

(Photo: Ursula Dubrick/Sea Turtle Conservancy)

The Florida sub-species of Green Sea Turtle population is in recovery and has experienced a record year for sea turtle nesting!  In 2015 there were 14,152 green sea turtle nests in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, up from only about 200 in 2001 (Archie Carr NWR, 2015).


Green Sea Turtle

(Photo: Andy Bruckner, NOAA)

David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, led tours during the nesting season, guiding small groups along the beach at night without lights in search of turtles coming out of the water to lay eggs. He stated, “From any spot on the beach during the peak of nesting, we might just within eyesight see maybe 10 turtles. And imagine, all these turtles are approaching 300 pounds each. Luckily they don’t move very fast,” he said. “We literally found ourselves at times pinned down by turtles. That’s a phenomenon we have not seen before in Florida” (Gertz, 2016).

The recovery of this population is thought to be due, in part, to the creation of the wildlife refuge itself, which was established in 1991.  This hopeful example of a growing sea turtle nesting area is a reminder of the value of land conservation!


NOAA Fisheries. (2015, August 26). Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas). Retrieved from

Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. (2015, December 7). Sea Turtle Nesting. Retrieved from

Gertz, E. (2016 January 4) Endangered Green Sea Turtles Return to Florida in Record Numbers. TakePart, Retrieved from

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Marine Species Deep Sea Navigation

December 18th, 2015

Animal adaptations are all around us, and the ocean is no different.  In the deep sea, where light only penetrates a few meters, animals have evolved in many ways in order to survive.  The unique navigation techniques of marine species are an example of these adaptations.  Echolocation, familiar to many as a form of bat communication and navigation, is used by several marine species including toothed whales and dolphins. Similarly, seals have developed large whiskers which they use to navigate the deep.

“When a dolphin scans an object with its high-frequency sound beam, each short click captures a still image, similar to a camera taking photographs,” said John Kassewitz, founder of the research organization Speak Dolphin.

Toothed whales also use echolocation to find their way in the ocean, as well as to identify prey.  When swimming normally, the sounds they emit are generally low frequency.  Echoes from these sounds provide information about the seafloor, shorelines, underwater obstacles, water depth, and the presence of other animals underwater. A recent theory even suggests that whales might use high intensity, focused sounds to stun or disorient prey in hunting.

Likewise, seal species have developed methods to navigate the deep sea without sight.  To follow their prey, harbor seals use their large whiskers, which are specially shaped to sense the movement of water as prey swims away.  By detecting these vibrations in the water, seals are able to follow and catch prey in the dark depths of the sea. These examples are just three of the countless, amazing adaptations marine species use to fine their way in the ocean!

harbor seal

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Where does our garbage go?

May 13th, 2015

Pacific Garbage Patch Landfills are a common human solution for disposing of trash on land. But when trash is discarded into the ocean, where does it end up? Unfortunately, since most types of marine debris (plastics, glass, etc.) are not biodegradable, the waste ends up floating in the water. When trash is discarded into the ocean, it often becomes incorporated into physical ocean features such as currents and gyres. Human waste in the ocean is becoming a problem so large that giant, swirling vortexes of trash now exist in the Pacific Ocean. Commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this vortex of trash actually exists as two smaller patches that are called the Eastern and Western garbage patches. They exist on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean basin. These smaller patches are connected by the Subtropical Convergence Zone (a physical feature of the ocean impacted by the atmosphere), which acts like a conveyor belt to move trash across the Pacific. No one knows exactly how large these patches are or how much trash they contain. Some heavier trash may sink in the water column, but many smaller pieces break off and float on the surface. Tiny pieces of plastic called microplastics can accumulate so much that the water may become cloudy in appearance. According to a National Geographic article, up to 1.9 million pieces of microplastics have been found to accumulate in a square mile in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is perilous to all forms of marine life, from tiny microscopic plants and algae to sea turtles and marine mammals. If the Patch becomes so abundant that sunlight is blocked at the ocean surface, phytoplankton and algal species cannot receive the sunlight they need in order to undergo photosynthesis and reproduce. If this base of the marine food web is compromised, this means there is less food available for all other species, including seafood for human populations. Many larger marine species, such as birds and sea turtles, have been found deceased with trash from the Patch in their stomach and intestinal tracts. Toxins leeched from plastic materials kill animals after they are ingested. Although the Patch is a large problem and too big for any one person to clean, you can do your part to prevent it from getting any larger. Using less plastic materials, recycling more, and being vocal if you see anyone throwing trash into the ocean are all ways that you can help the effort to reduce the Patch. If more effort is taken to reduce the amount of waste we produce, then there is hope the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will not continue to grow and plague marine life.

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How long could plastic stay in turtles?

February 18th, 2015

We are already all too familiar with the interaction between plastics and sea turtles, but a new study has provided additional information about the interactions between plastics in turtles.

Researchers from Germany and Australia have looked at what happens to different types of plastic bags as they are passed through the digestive tract of a both green and loggerhead sea turtles. The scientists were particularly interested in noting the differences in degradation (if any) between the standard grocery store plastic bag, the degradable plastic bag, and the biodegradable plastic bag. No turtles were harmed in the experiment, since the digestive fluids were taken from recently deceased loggerhead and green turtles.

Not surprising, the standard plastic bag and the degradable plastic bag underwent no significant change. There were high hopes that the biodegradable bag would be significantly broken down, as the manufactures claim when composted the bags break down in only 49 days. After 49 days in the gastric fluids of green and loggerhead turtles, the biodegradable bags had barely broken down at all, in some cases as little as 3% in the loggerhead. The green turtles fluids did a slightly better job of digesting the biodegradable material (9%), probably due to their herbivore diet, allowing them to more efficiently break down cellulose.

Over 177 marine species have been recorded to ingest man-made plastics, including 86% of sea turtles. Due to the presence of papillae lining their esophagus, it makes it almost impossible for the turtles to regurgitate the bags leading to gut impactions and perforations. These sobering results, published by Muller C. et al in Science of the Total Environment further demonstrate that all bags pose significant risk to marine life.

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