Grant: 07-028R
Project Title: Carr Refuge Leatherback Turtles
Project Manager: Dr. LM Ehrhart
Organization: University of Central Florida (Research and Educational Institute)
Grant Amount: $11,786.00
Completion Date: 2010-08-04

Summary: The recent (10 year) increase in leatherback nesting in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge prompted the UCF Marine Turtle Research group to increase its effort in studying these animals. Surveys were begun in April, a month earlier than usual in 1998 and 1999, and in 2000 the effort was again increased as surveys were extended to include March. Also in 2000, a concerted nightly effort was begun to encounter nesting females in order to tag and P.I.T. tag each female, collect measurements, DNA samples and mark nests. This effort resulted in a better understanding of how many females were using the Carr Refuge. This early season and night work has never been funded by our annual beach contract and the small amount of outside funding has been sporadic and insufficient to cover expenses created by this extra effort. This project will support equipment, maintenance and fuel to continue our increased nightly effort to encounter as many females as possible, to tag new turtles and identify recaptures, to collect as much information as possible about this lesser-known species. As more turtles are tagged and encountered we will learn more about how leatherbacks are using Florida's coastline for nesting. In 2005, for the first time, turtles tagged at Juno Beach were encountered nesting in the Carr Refuge. Turtles tagged by UCF since 2000 have been encountered nesting at New Smyrna Beach, Daytona Beach, Canaveral National Seashore, Hutchinson Island and Juno Beach.

Results: The two Yamaha ATVs purchased for the leatherback project did not arrive in time to be used for the 2007 season and were carefully saved for the 2008 season. The 2007 season produced the highest number of leatherback nests and turtles seen to date. The Carr Refuge received 52 leatherback nests, and there were another 22 nests on the beaches to the north of the Refuge for a total of 74 nests on UCF surveyed beaches. The 2008 season brought a lower leatherback year, but finished with 20 nests in the Carr Refuge and another five nests on beaches to the north.