Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles live in the Gulf of Mexico, and scientists say there are significant gaps in knowledge about their status and population dynamics. Leading global design firm Stantec is supporting the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries in developing a comprehensive, Gulf-wide, sea-turtle in-water data collection plan.
“The Gulf of Mexico is vast, and adult and large juvenile sea turtles spend a great deal of time underwater, making it challenging to conduct effective, comprehensive surveys for them,” said Andrea Ahrens, Stantec environmental scientist and sea turtle subject matter expert. “Scientists have data about their nesting habits and abundance because their onshore life events – such as nesting, egg incubation, and hatchling emergence – can be more readily studied, but their open-ocean lives are far more elusive.”
Stantec will soon help change that.
To help fill information gaps needed to meet recovery objectives, Stantec’s team of scientists and environmental specialists will provide NFWF and NOAA Fisheries with sea-turtle technical expertise, project management guidance, and assistance in compiling a comprehensive in-water data-collection strategy. The project is funded by the 2016 financial settlement relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which dumped 3.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The study is the first of its kind to try to develop an in-water, Gulf-wide plan to collect standardized information on sea turtles in the open waters of the Gulf.
Stantec will support the project Steering Committee and working groups during the planning process by engaging known sea turtle scientists and experts. Additionally, Stantec will facilitate technical workshops to design data collection protocols, and draft outreach materials.
All five species of Gulf of Mexico sea turtles are federally listed as either threatened or endangered. According to NFWF, sea turtles are vulnerable to extinction due to decades of exploitation, habitat alteration, marine pollution, and bycatch in fisheries.
“The goal of this effort is to create a statistically sound plan to gather what we need to know about the abundance, life stages, and biology of different sizes and age groups of sea turtles in the Gulf,” said Francis Wiese, marine sciences leader for Stantec. “The intent is to provide a data collection framework to guide future projects so the benefits of restoration efforts can be assessed for sea turtle populations that were injured by the oil spill.”
Design of the study is expected to be completed in 2023.
About the NFWF and NOAA:
- Chartered by Congress in 1984, NFWF protects and restores the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats for current and future generations. Working with federal, corporate, and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 5,000 organizations and generated a total conservation impact of more than $6.8 billion.
- NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine resources.
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