Grant: 19-007C
Project Title: ATV for Mote Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program Nesting Surveys
Project Manager: Melissa Bernhard
Organization: Mote Marine Laboratory (Non-Profit Organization)
Grant Amount: $6,837.99
Completion Date: 2019-12-03

Summary: The Mote Marine Laboratory Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program (STCRP) monitors sea turtle activity each year on approximately 56 km of coastline comprised of five separate keys. We use all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to patrol on four different keys in order to complete morning nesting surveys. In the last three years we have experienced record numbers of sea turtle nesting activities while simultaneously experiencing a reduction in program funding. Our primary source of program funding is through local municipalities associated with beach nourishment projects and most of our current nourishment project funding is concluding following the 2018 season. This project will cover the cost of an ATV to help replace our aging and non-operational ATVs. The vehicle will be utilized by the STCRP during regular nesting surveys so that we can continue to collect data on species, crawl type, crawl locations, and obstructions encountered in an efficient and effective manner. All of the nests on our beaches are marked with 2-6 stakes, and we also have significant predator issues, which can require carrying cages and/or screens to apply to nests in addition to the stakes. With the increased number of sea turtle activities over the past few years, it would be impossible for us to carry all the required equipment needed in some locations while on foot. The use of ATVs increases and strengthens our ability to conserve and protect sea turtles and their habitat in Sarasota County.

Results: On June 8, 2019 Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program (STCRP) purchased a new Honda TRX420FM1K All-Terrain-Vehicle (nicknamed “Chompy” through a vote by 2019 STCRP morning patrol interns) from South County Honda with funds provided by the Sea Turtle License Plate Grant. Chompy was taken to Precision Cycle and Tire where a Silent Rider exhaust and silencer pipe was installed. On June 18th Chompy was dropped off to be treated with a protective Line-X coating. Due to a misunderstanding of the quote originally requested in preparations for the grant proposal, the final pricing exceeded the original budget. Fortunately, the vehicle cost dropped, which covered the difference, allowing the full Line-X coating at the increased rate. This miscommunication resulted in a longer wait-time for the treatment. Upon completion of the Line-X coating on June 25th, Chompy was picked up and was dropped off at Casey Key that afternoon and began surveys the following morning. A Sea Turtle Grant Program license plate was affixed to the rear frame (photos attached) in acknowledgement of the grant funding. Chompy was utilized on morning nesting surveys for 99 days from June 26th through October 2nd, after which the number of remaining nests was so low, that accessing them by foot was a feasible alternative. During this time, Chompy was run for approximately 150 hours and 600 miles and experienced no mechanical trouble or breakdowns (compared to numerous, time-consuming issues from the older fleet the previous seasons). Chompy was utilized on the southern end of the island, the highest density nesting beach covered by Mote. 2019 was a banner year, breaking numerous records across all of Mote’s beaches. Casey Key, with its 2,314 documented nests, was no exception. During Chompy’s tenure on the beach, it was instrumental in documenting and responding to at least 340 nests (311 loggerhead and 29 green turtle) staked with approximately 850 wooden stakes and 29 self-releasing cages/screens and 315 false crawls (282 loggerhead and 33 green turtle). Four nights per week through the end of July, Chompy was also used by the nighttime tagging team to double their coverage.