During the summer, FWRI's Marine Turtle team conducts research in
Florida Bay. This interview with Allen Foley was conducted on a
boat after the capture of a loggerhead turtle.
Allen Foley, assistant
research scientist with FWRI, was interviewed by the Teaching
Learning Network for a video about endangered species in Florida.
The following transcript was taken from the complete, uncut
interview, conducted on Florida Bay while his fellow researchers
measured and tagged a captured loggerhead in the boat behind
Q. What did you catch here, and what is the purpose of
A. Well this is an adult male loggerhead, and what we're doing out
here is learning more about the turtles that live in Florida Bay.
We go out and catch the turtles that we can catch and bring them
aboard and learn about what species they are, what size they are
and whether they're male or female. We take blood to determine
their health status and also to determine what we call their
"genetic identity," which tells us what nesting beach they're from.
So it's really to learn more about turtles in Florida.
This turtle behind us is an adult male loggerhead that we've
captured before. We captured it last year, and it actually had some
extra research tools that were attached to it. There was a box on
it earlier that was a satellite transmitter, and that allowed us to
follow the movements of the turtle when we weren't here. The
satellite transmitter would send signals to a satellite orbiting
overhead which would send a signal to a company that plots a
latitude and longitude for the turtle and sends it to us.
Q. Why collect all this data? What's the
A. It's important for us to know about turtles in Florida so that
we can make sure we're not conducting activities that are making it
tough for turtles to survive in Florida. If we know what kind of
turtles are living here, what sizes are living here, where they're
living, and we can also learn about what problems they encounter.
For example, this one has propeller injuries on its shell. We see
how many turtles are hit by boats and what type of injuries they
sustain. We also learn about their health so we know more about the
possible diseases they're facing. It just allows us to learn about
how turtles are doing in Florida so that we can do things to help
their populations recover.
Q. Are they endangered?
A. Yes, all of the species of sea turtles in Florida are either
endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This
species that's behind us, the loggerhead, is threatened, and the
other species that live here in Florida Bay are endangered. We also
catch green turtles here and hawksbills and Kemp's ridleys. Living
offshore of Florida - not in this bay but in Florida nonetheless -
are leatherbacks. So we have five species of sea turtles, four
endangered and one threatened, all of them under the Endangered
Species Act and all facing population declines and all animals that
we need to learn more about so we can make sure that they are on
the way to recovery and not to extinction.
Q. How many eggs does a female lay?
A. About 100 to 120 on average. They can nest six or seven times
per season. The average is about three or four.
Q. You were telling me about how data collection helps
replenish the population of sea turtles. How does it do
A. Well not directly. It's just that the more we know about
turtles in Florida and the more we know about the problems they
face, the more we can do to try to reduce those problems. If we
know that they are suffering from something we can see what we can
do about alleviating that something.
Q. Such as?
A. Well, for example, if we know that many turtles are entangled
in fishing line and that those cause bad injuries to turtles, we
can try to increase public awareness about not discarding fishing
line, about having cleanups to move fishing line from the
environment to try to reduce the incidents of entanglement. If we
know that a lot of turtles are hit by boats, we can try to do more
to educate boaters about being careful of turtles and learning more
about where turtle live so we can concentrate efforts on where
boaters and turtles might interact the most.
Q. Why have they become endangered?
A. It's almost certainly due to a variety of reasons. They've lost
a lot of habitat. Our building on beaches, our dredging of
waterways, our destruction of areas where they breed and where they
lay eggs, a lot die in fishery interactions, in the past a lot were
killed directly in fisheries before they were protected. And even
out in the water they still encounter man even when man's not
there. There's a lot of pollution that they encounter that causes
different problems for them.
Q. Tell us a little bit about the night
A. Well in Florida each summer we host probably the largest
loggerhead nesting group in the world. Each year we get about
60-80,000 loggerhead nests in Florida. From May through September
mostly loggerheads are nesting on our beaches each night - on all
the sandy beaches throughout Florida from Northeast Florida down to
Keys all the way up to the Panhandle.
Q. There are a lot of activities around the country with
public volunteers trying to help save turtles. Why do you think
that is? What is it about the turtle that people seem to fall in
A. It's hard to say. Probably every person you ask would have a
different reason why they like turtles. In general it's probably
because it's a large animal, and it has a really cute face and
other things like that.
Q. Are you surprised at how much public support there
has been to save the turtles?
A. No I guess I hadn't even thought about that. I like turtles,
and it just seems like a natural thing. I think what it probably is
is pretty much everyone as a child has a little pet turtle - not a
sea turtle of course - but people connect early with turtles.
There's a lot of children's stories that have turtles, and I think
kids right away, especially because a turtle is a little bit
different than other animals at least different looking with the
shell, the house that it carries on its back that everyone learns
about. So I think people connect early with turtles specifically
and that probably stays with them throughout their life.
Q. Do you know what impact the FWC or FWRI has had in
protecting and replenishing the supply? Have you been able to track
any programs to see if they're successful?
A. Really it involves a cooperative effort worldwide. If one group
in one place is the only place protecting sea turtles then nothing
will happen. Sea turtles are wide-ranging animals. They spend part
of their life in one place, they move to another place for another
part of their life, and over their lifetime live in many countries
or spend time in many countries. So really it's a worldwide,
cooperative effort, and fortunately we have a lot of organizations
a lot of agencies all around the world that work to protect the
turtles when the turtles are living in their area. So no matter
what we did here, if people weren't doing the same thing in other
places, then we would have no effect. Even in Florida it's an
effort between the state and the federal government and between a
lot of different conservation organizations and a lot of other
Q. Has the population increased
A. We're still battling. There might be some increases in some
times and some places and some decreases. It's really hard to get a
handle on these types of animals because they do spend different
parts of their lives in different areas, and you can't just go out
and count them and feel certain you know today how many there are
and next year how many there are and the year after, so we really
just get little snapshots that might just tell us something that's
happening at that time and that place but overall we probably are
at least holding our own with their population numbers and may be
seeing some increases but probably still also seeing some
decreases. We just always have to keep a really close eye on
Q.So what's the biggest threat facing sea turtles
A. In the United States in the past it was direct killing of
turtles. People would go out and kill turtles for food, take eggs
for food, and that was probably the biggest impact. Today those
things are easier to fight because you see a picture of someone
going out and killing a turtle with a machete, and that type of
action is easy to get public support to be against that type of
activity. Mostly what happens today is turtles are killed
indirectly. The people that are killing turtles don't mean to kill
turtles. They're doing something else, and their activity is
incidentally causing turtles to die. People are building on their
property, and that's taking nesting habitat or taking habitat in
the water where turtles find food. People are fishing to feed their
families, and their fishing activities are either killing turtles
at the time or some of the nets that they lose are killing
So what's happening today is people are doing other things, and
turtles are getting killed incidental to that activity. When you
work to try to reduce that you also interfere with people's
livlihoods, and that causes a lot of mixed feelings among different
people. So it's more difficult to deal with things like that
because you get into private property issues and people's right to
utilize different aspects of resource issues.
Q. What can the public do to help save sea
A. The best thing is for people to learn as much as they can about
turtles. To know what things affect turtles and what things
individual people do that affect turtles, such as throwing garbage
in the water (not only affects turtles but also other animals).
Just simple things like disposing garbage properly, not leaving
fishing line in the water and people that own property where
turtles are sometimes found, like on beaches, learning about how
their activities on their property adversely affect the turtles
that might sometimes come to their beaches. For example, beachfront
lighting, learning that hatchlings are more attracted to artificial
light than to the natural light that leads them to the water and
learning how to adjust their light so it doesn't have a bad affect
on the hatchlings.