Inwater Research Group Studies Green Turtle
Foraging Habitat in the Key West National
Wildlife Refuge
Jonathan Gorham, Ph.D.
Since 2004, Inwater Research Group (IRG) has been studying a large assemblage of adult and sub-adult green turtles residing on an area of seagrass habitat near the Key West National Wildlife Refuge known as the Eastern Quicksands. The discovery of this area was very significant since it was the first foraging habitat for adult green turtles ever identified in the continental United States, and IRG has been working there for the last 10 years to better understand this unique group of turtles and their habitat.

“The biggest obstacle to this work is the remoteness of the area”, said Jonathan Gorham, IRG Vice-President. “We are working 25-30 miles west of Key West, a long ride for the small boats we work out of. The dynamic weather and quick building afternoon thunderstorms severely limit the amount of time we are able to spend out there each day and also presents issues with crew safety, since it is outside cell phone and reliable VHF radio range from Key West”.

Those issues were solved this last month with a partnership with the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation. The Foundation provided its 54’ Hatteras research vessel, Hawksbill, and crew Captain Mike Osborne, Captain Billy Romano, mate Kaleb Jemison to serve as a “Mother Ship” for the latest research trip. The Hawksbill anchored west of the Marquesas Keys for four days and provided accommodations, support, and a refuge from bad weather for the five person IRG crew. “It worked out wonderfully well”, said Gorham, “we now had a home base just a few miles from our study site, which saved on time and fuel, and greatly enhanced both our safety and our ability to get work done”.
Captain Mike Osborne on the Research Vessel Hawksbill in the Marquesas Keys, west of Key West, Florida
Expedition team members (L-R): Steve Traxler, Ryan Welsh, Jonathan Gorham, Adrienne McCracken, and Rick Herren aboard the Research Vessel Hawksbill
With the Hawksbill as a home base, the IRG team was able to capture, tag, and take samples from 15 large green turtles, as well as run over 60 kilometers of vessel-based visual transects to determine patterns of green turtle abundance in the area. “This was our most successful trip ever, and it was due in large part to the support we had from the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation”, said Gorham.

As data from satellite tracking of turtles from nesting beaches identifies more and more foraging and inter-nesting habitats for Florida turtles every year, researchers may be going farther and farther out to remote areas, and a resource like the Hawksbill could be a real help in safely and effectively conducting research.
Researchers with the Inwater Research Group hand-capture turtles using the “Rodeo” method, which involves diving onto turtles from a moving boat
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