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Conservancy of Southwest Florida continues sea turtle research, protection with release of ‘NIN’ into Gulf of Mexico

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida released its loggerhead sea turtle ambassador, NIN, into the Gulf of Mexico as it continues groundbreaking research into the endangered species.

NIN was part of a Sea Turtle Sex Determination Study by Jeanette Wyneken, a professor of biological sciences at Florida Atlantic University who is analyzing the impact of nesting temperatures on the sea turtle population. The study documented that higher nesting temperatures result in more female hatchlings, while lower nesting temperatures produce more males. The imbalance could affect the species’ survival and serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining beaches, protecting nests and the impact of climate on wildlife.

NIN was incubated at a low temperature and low humidity levels, and tests later confirmed it was a male. He arrived at the Conservancy in May 2018 as a juvenile weighing about 14 ounces with a straight-line carapace (top shell) of 5.2 inches. At his release on March 25, NIN weighed 51 pounds and his shell measured 21.1 inches.

As the first known male sea turtle ambassador at the Conservancy, NIN took temporary residence in the Conservancy’s 5,000-gallon Patch Reef Aquarium at the Dalton Discovery Center. Before entering the Gulf of Mexico near Ten Thousand Islands, NIN was fitted with a satellite transmitter on his carapace to track his movements and migrations, allowing researchers to understand more about this species, especially at the juvenile stage.

“Our long-term studies have identified the Ten Thousand Islands as an important area for marine turtles, providing the food and habitat that NIN will need to survive in the wild,” said Jeff Schmid, the Conservancy’s science research manager. “The satellite transmitter will allow us to remotely observe NIN’s behavior after release and assess how he is acclimating to his new home.”

The satellite transmitter also will allow the Conservancy to monitor NIN’s feeding behavior and local movements to see if they are similar to those of wild turtles.

Loggerheads are primarily molluscivores that use their strong jaws and muscles in their relatively large heads to crush conchs, whelks and other hard-shelled creatures like crabs.

The Conservancy debuted its sea turtle monitoring and protection program in 1982, and researchers have documented more than 285,000 hatchlings of primarily loggerhead sea turtles. Only 1 in 1,000 sea turtles survives to adulthood, so each individual that can be protected is significant to the survival of this threatened species.

The Conservancy protects sea turtle nests through numerous ways, including:

  • Cages: Without cages, raccoons would destroy 85-90% of sea turtle nests, and few, if any, hatchlings would ever reach the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Tagging: Each nesting turtle is measured and documented using a numbered tag that allows for identification and tracking.
  • History: Sea turtles typically return to the same beach to nest every two to four years, and extensive documentation has provided the Conservancy with reproductive life histories of some Keewaydin turtles that go back more than 30 years.
  • Financial support: The Conservancy’s development team has promoted the importance of sea turtle research and protection to its generous donors and supporters, a prioritization that has saved thousands of hatchlings.

In Florida, loggerheads are a threatened species. As hatchlings, sea turtles face several natural predators, but as adults their only predators are sharks and humans. Human threats include habitat loss, poaching, pollution, litter (such as plastic bags), commercial fishing and boat collisions.

The Conservancy offers guidelines for residents and visitors to help the sea turtle population:

  • Do not approach marked nests.
  • Do not touch sea turtles or point them toward the Gulf (they can find their way to the water).
  • Turn off lights at beaches during nesting season (artificial light confuses turtles, which use moonlight to guide them into the Gulf).
  • Slow down in designated channel zones.
  • Keep beaches clean and free of debris (turtles will eat and can choke on litter).
  • Use reusable bags instead of plastic bags.
  • Support fisheries that use turtle-safe devices on their nets.

The Conservancy’s sea turtle ambassador was named by Barbara Chur, a Conservancy supporter who bid on naming rights at the 2018 Magic Under the Mangroves gala. NIN stands for “Nine In Naples,” a group of nine women who bonded during a visit to Southwest Florida.

About the Conservancy of Southwest Florida:
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a not-for-profit environmental protection organization with a 55-year history focused on the issues impacting the water, land, wildlife and future of Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Conservancy accomplishes this mission through the combined efforts of its experts in the areas of environmental science, policy, education and wildlife rehabilitation. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, world-class Nature Center and von Arx Wildlife Hospital are headquartered in Naples, Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, south of the Naples Zoo off Goodlette-Frank Road. Learn more about the Conservancy’s work and how to support the quality of life in Southwest Florida www.conservancy.org.

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