About This Project
I am studying the health of the hawksbill sea turtle population in Puerto Rico to help conserve this critically endangered species. This study will be largely based at Mona Island, PR, the largest rookery for the species in the Caribbean. Findings will be used to establish health parameters for the region, help develop treatment plans, compare other populations, and address disease occurrence.
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What is the context of this research?
Sea turtles are long-lived, highly migratory species with slow maturation and low reproductive success; hence endangered populations are unlikely to recover quickly. Understanding female health and hatchling production is critical for conservation. Targeting nesting areas and rookeries brings an overview of population trends, and affords the opportunity to collect data and examine trends that can further conservation.
Health assessments are critical to assess populations and are affected by a variety of factors that make it necessary to establish baseline health parameters for distinct geographic regions and populations. Understanding hatch success and hatchling pathology enables researchers to address and minimize disease occurrence.
What is the significance of this project?
Previous assessments of hawksbill populations in the region outlined a downward trend in hawksbill nesting and nesting females, while findings from subsequent research confirm the critically endangered status. Our proposed study site in Mona Island has one of the longest-running hawksbill sea turtle programs in the Caribbean and supports the largest hawksbill nesting ground in the region.
Information on hatch success and health of hawksbill embryos and hatchlings is limited. Data collected will contribute to health studies in the region and address hatchling diseases. The objectives of this study are critical for management and essential for hawksbill population recovery efforts in Puerto Rico which are currently needed.
What are the goals of the project?
We will examine female health and the hatching success of associated nests in Mona Island, Puerto Rico. Forty individual females will undergo health assessments and late-stage dead embryos and hatchlings will be examined for pathology. The hatching success of nests laid by the forty females will be analyzed in relation to temperature, humidity, female health, fertilization, and hatchling pathology. Twenty nests will be outfitted with data loggers that will record temperature and humidity throughout the incubation process. Finally, data collected will be used to establish female health parameters for this region and an understanding of embryo and hatchling pathology at nesting sites in Puerto Rico will be reported, which can then be used by clinicians and researchers.
The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources charges researchers 15/day for housing and 25/day for food per person at Mona Island for the established time period as stated in the initial application. These charges are in accordance to Administrative Order 2014-13. This budget is entirely separate from the budget allocated for the research materials and tools to conduct the study.
El Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales cobra investigadores 15/dia por alojamiento y 25/dia por comida a cada persona que este en isla de Mona durante el periodo establecido en la solicitud inicial. Estos cargos son de acuerdo a la orden administrativa 2014-13. Este presupuesto es enteramente separado del presupuesto destinado a materiales y herramientos para realizar el estudio.
This study is part of my Ph.D. degree, thus time is allotted for required institutional processes that will lead to a dissertation.
Aug 18, 2023
Nesting female sampling at Mona Island- 1 month
Aug 31, 2023
Oct 30, 2023
Nest excavations and hatchling sampling-2 months
Dec 30, 2023
Feb 29, 2024
Manuscript writing Thesis submission
Meet the Team
Dr. Kimberly Stewart, St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network and Ross University, St. Kitts
Dr. Michelle Dennis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA
Dr. Antonio Mignucci, Caribbean Manatee Center and Inter American University, Puerto Rico
Carlos E. Diez, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Puerto Rico
Luis Crespo, Amigos de las tortugas marinas, Puerto Rico
The leadership and knowledge I have to pursue this research stem from my previous experience in the field. I have previously carried out the field sampling tasks proposed for this research as part of my experiences with the Manatee Conservation Center of the Caribbean and Chelonia: Research and Conservation of Marine Turtles, all while I studied Marine Biology at the University of Puerto Rico.
As project coordinator for the hawksbill nesting season under DNER, I have managed budget, teams, reports, and time-constraint and pressure situations. I also have more than eight years of experience working with nesting sea turtles and doing nest inventories. I had a concentrated experience on hawksbill nesting in Mona Island and Culebra Island, Puerto Rico which furthered my expertise on the circumstances and factors behind data collection. I have also faced the limitations and harsh conditions Mona Island conveys, which suit me further to pursue this project. My master’s thesis focused on the statistics behind nesting leatherbacks; which sharpened research and organizational skills that will come in handy during this project.