Turtle Team and Oceanographers Do Mix

Bigelow scientific team at dinner

Here’s the team, at dinner before the first night on the boat: (around the table from the first on the left) Leah Crowe, Cassie Fries, Joe Warren, Eric Matzen, Michael James, Betsy Broughton, Samir Patel (obscured), Liese Siemann, Hannah Blair, Chrissy Hernandez).

Samir Patel here, turtle biologist aboard the Henry Bigelow for the 2017 Turtle and Cetacean cruise.   I am fortunate to have this opportunity to collaborate with many scientists from varying fields. As a sea turtle biologist, I do not typically conduct oceanographic surveys, or deploy acoustic recording devices, or sift through plankton in search of larval fish. However, we’re doing all of that.  This combination of researchers from government agencies, academia and non-profits means a cruise for turtle research becomes an opportunity to successfully integrate many research goals.

For the turtle research itself, the team consists of scientists from NEFSC, Department of Fisheries and Oceans-Canada, and Coonamessett Farm Foundation (CFF). The oceanographic work includes researchers from NEFSC, Stony Brook University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and CFF.

The goal of the sea turtle research is to sample a population of turtles that is typically difficult to encounter.  Using our combined resources, we hope to achieve this difficult goal. We expect turtles in this region to be smaller and forage higher in the water column than those encountered in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, for example.  There, through collaboration with NEFSC and CFF, we have caught and tagged more than 100 loggerhead turtles. We also expect the density to be lower than in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, thus communication and additional collaboration with local fishermen is key to providing intel on where we might encounter loggerheads.


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For the oceanographic sampling, collaboration allows the use of the same tools to help solve multiple problems. By towing neuston and bongo nets that are sampling at varying parts of the water column, several research questions can be addressed. First, what plankton are found in these regions and under these environmental conditions, specifically, in the frontal zones between warm and cold waters? Second, are there any particular fish larvae found in the plankton that would help us improve understanding of the spawning locations? Third, can we use video recording to measure the presence of gelatinous zooplankton in the water, a major food source for leatherback turtles and, occasionally, loggerhead turtles as well?

If not for the diversity of collaborators, our goals and objectives during this leg would be very limited; however through strong collaboration, we can address many research questions and bring many scientists together.

Samir Patel, Coonamessett Farm Foundation

Aboard the NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow

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