Citizen Scientists Play Key Role in Sea Turtle Nest Patrol and Outreach

Of six sea turtle species that nest on beaches in the continental United States, all are designated as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Over 90 percent of their nests are located on the beaches of Florida, where the state’s three national estuarine research reserves play a key role in conservation efforts by engaging volunteers.

Measuring nesting success rates requires repeatedly covering many miles of beach during the nesting season, a monumental task for sea turtle researchers. To alleviate the workload, each year the research reserves and other partners recruit more than 1,800 biologists, interns, and trained citizen science volunteers. These volunteers not only help to identify, mark, and monitor nests on 199 beaches, but they also provide critical outreach and education about sea turtle conservation through public interaction during the nesting surveys.

With the help of the hundreds of hours contributed by interns and citizen scientists, Florida’s three research reserves have monitored 1,270 nests this year.

  • Guana Tolomato Matanzas Reserve saw a 67 percent increase in nests, with 202 nests total, including 17 rare green turtle nests.
  • Rookery Bay Reserve increased from 550 nests in 2014, to 630 in 2015.
  • Apalachicola Reserve identified 438 nests, including 424 Loggerhead and 14 green turtle nests.

“We are very pleased to see the sea turtle population increased this year within our managed areas,” said Kevin Claridge, director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Office. “There are many variables that can affect population numbers, but a key component to species management is good data, which in this case would not have been possible without so many excellent partnerships and volunteer hours.”

Partners: Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, NOAA Office for Coastal Management, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve