Composition, distribution and ecology of the Nature Coast sea turtle assemblage
August 2016 - August 2020
- University of Florida, Nature Coast Biological Station
Initial objectives: 1) Visual transect surveys using a surface vessel will identify areas of high occurrence and will be conducted with methods similar to the work of Inwater Research Group (2012), but with the addition of line transects with distance sampling to account for detectability issues. 2) Polling of fishers and recreationists will provide a survey of local knowledge to identify turtle “hotspots”. Some of the impetus for the proposed work comes from the recent rise in anecdotal reports of the increased presence of sea turtles in coastal areas adjacent to the NCBS. 3) Aerial transects with Box on Strut (BoS)/Aerial transects with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) – will leverage the research interests of the UF Unmanned Aerial Systems Research Program to perform BoS and Nova 2.1 (fixed-wing platform) flights. Resulting imagery will address the efficacy of these tools for aquatic megafaunal surveys, and provide additional data for demographic analyses. 4) Assessment of nearshore bottom types and health with tethered Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) transects and sampling – will allow examination and possible correlation of edaphic factors driving prey/forage availability and habitat selection. 5) Overlay of climatic data on historical and current sea turtle distribution and assemblage composition – will investigate the role of climate/SST and related variability on species distribution and dominance. This may allow examination of the hypothesis that localized increases in turtle sightings may reflect responses to changing conditions and are not solely an indication of increased populations.