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Marine Lab helping out with sea turtle blood samples

By Staff | May 13, 2020

SCCF Sea turtle bloodwork being conducted by SCCF staffers.

COVID-19 has presented challenges for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation staff as it remains committed to following CDC guidelines. Typically, interns have moved into the dorm housing and are being trained to collect data about 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 the SCCF’s cadre of nearly 100 volunteers has left shortfalls in scheduling and in 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, the 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,” Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt said.

SCCF 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 three to four days once every three weeks,” he said.

The sea turtle lab work starts at 6 a.m. 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,” Sloan said.

The lab staff will also continue to do essential work at the lab to maintain time series data and work from home on grant proposals and journal articles until social distancing restrictions are relaxed.