The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to SCCF staff as we remain committed to following CDC guidelines. Typically, by now, interns have moved into our dorm housing and are being trained to collect data on sea turtle nests and nesting females.
But, not this year. So, SCCF staff from other departments have stepped forward to help because the sea turtles are not going to stop nesting because of the pandemic.
A nighttime tagging and sampling program for sea turtles was designed to understand individuals and their frequency of nesting and returning to Sanibel and Captiva. The nighttime research has been expanded to collect blood samples to examine physiological markers of the health of the individual.
However, the lack of ‘intern power’ and inability to use our seasoned cadre of nearly 100 volunteers has left shortfalls in scheduling and workers needed to satisfy the monitoring, research, and grant requirements that the work demands.
While staff from the Sanibel Sea School, Wildlife & Habitat Management, and the Native Landscapes & Garden Center are helping with early morning monitoring patrols at a safe social distance, our Marine Lab staff is also helping out at first light now.
“Our staff scientists are all trained with laboratory techniques and have agreed to process blood samples from night turtle surveys seven days per week,” said Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt.
SCCF’s sea turtle team members Andrew Glinsky and Kelly Sloan have set up a work station for the blood work at the Habitat Management facility. The lab staff were provided protocols and a video of a sample being process was captured with a GoPro camera.
“We have established a schedule much like a physician would have for emergency call, where one of the lab staff will process sea turtle blood for 3-4 days once every three weeks,” added Milbrandt.
The sea turtle lab work starts early at 6am to preserve the quality of the blood sample.
“We are thrilled to have the help of our highly qualified Marine Lab staff on this vital research that helps us better understand the effects of red tide on sea turtles,” said Sloan.
The Marine Lab staff will also continue to do essential work at the lab to maintain valuable time series data and is working from home on grant proposals and journal articles until the social distancing restrictions are relaxed.