Ivanis T. Sánchez Cruz, a marine ecologist specializing in the conservation of marine turtles and recipient of the 2022 Seed Fund, shares with us an update on her ongoing research with sea turtles.
Tell us what you have accomplished so far since starting your Seed Fund project?
Thanks to the Seed Fund, I was able to purchase the temperature data loggers, equipment that is key to the temperature data collection of the nests for my research project. At the moment, pluviometers and tempo discs have been placed at the two ends of the study sites to record the amount of daily rain and temperature/humidity as environmental variables that influence the nests from the outside.
I'll be collaborating with Dr. Jose Fernandez, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo and a group of his research students that will help me conduct the night-time surveys required to place the data loggers inside the nests and collect the environmental data during the oviposition (process of egg laying). The research students will also participate during the day-time beach monitoring to collect the data from the hatched nests.
I will also be collaborating with Dr. Gualberto Rosado, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo and his research students, who will be studying the presence of fungi associated with the eggs and nesting females, as well as fungi in the microenvironment of the nests. This collaboration will potentially help us get a better understanding of the factors that might be influencing the development of the eggs and therefore the overall success of the nests, along with the parameters that I’ll be measuring.
I will also be collaborating with Jean P. Gonzalez from the D.N.E.R. Conservation Project of the Mariquita of Puerto Rico to implement the use of infrared imagery of a thermal drone to monitor the beach. This will not only help us detect emerging females but also allows us to develop new and more efficient techniques to monitor sea turtle nesting activity in Puerto Rico.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank Myrna Concepción, the coordinator of the Comité Arecibeño por la Conservación de Tortugas Marinas, better known as "Yo Amo el Tinglar" for collaborating with me on this research project. Yo Amo el Tinglar has volunteered to collect data of the sea turtle nesting activity from Camuy to Vega Baja, including my study sites located in Arecibo, for the next 10 years. Working alongside locals that truly know their beaches and communities has made it possible to make the best of every project activity. Thus, collaborations like this, help to set a path to develop and publish scientific literature on data that is usually kept within annual reports, and which needs to be shared to set the population of nesting leatherbacks of Puerto Rico on the map.
During the month of February, I was able to present a brief summary of my research project during the 6th Encuentro de Tortugueros de Puerto Rico that took place in Hallows, Arecibo.
What has been the most challenging aspect you have encountered? How did you overcome it, or how are you working to overcome it?
Currently, the study sites have been heavily eroded due to the tidal waves resulting from inclement weather over the last few weeks. As a result, I haven't been able to place the control data loggers on some of the study sites. To overcome this, I have to wait for the sand accretion to occur during the next few days and then I will place them. Beach erosion is a normal process of the ecosystem, but since it is usually observed the most on the north coast of the island it did not come as a surprise.
Do you have any preliminary or final results to share?
Currently, I've been working on training the group of research students that will be collaborating with me on my project. I've offered them a sea turtle education talk to provide them with basic knowledge of the species, as well as a workshop, both theoretical and practical, to prepare them for the tasks to be performed during the beach monitoring for the data collection.
As recently as last week, we started night-time beach monitoring to look for emerging females. During this past week, I started patrolling the beach, both on foot and with a thermal drone. On Saturday, I encountered a sea turtle nesting site and I was able to successfully place the first data logger for my research project! So far it has been a great experience for both research students and professors.
We’ve also been able to run different settings with the thermal drone and so far, it’s been clearly successful in detecting other types of wildlife and people at the beach, as well as accurately develop temperature profiles of each study site which reaffirms it will be a great tool for the study.
"On Saturday, I encountered a sea turtle nesting site and I was able to successfully place the first data logger for my research project! So far it has been a great experience for both research students and professors."
Did you discover something new about your field of interest and/or your topic that you didn't know before?
Now that I’ve had the opportunity to start working with the collaborators mentioned above, it has given me perspective on a greater level about how important it is to unite efforts even between different scientific disciplines, like Mycology, for the study and conservation of sea turtles. Furthermore, I’ve learned how the use of technology can be of great advantage to monitor sea turtle activity. As an example of this, the study site with the longest extension in miles takes approximately an hour and a half to be walked on foot at a regular pace without taking any breaks, whereas it only took the drone 15 minutes to fly over it.
What are the next steps to finish up your project and when do you aim to have it completed?
The next step for the project will be to continue with the night-time monitoring to place the data loggers inside of the nests. After this, we will begin day-time monitoring until all nests have hatched. If everything goes accordingly, I expect to be done with placing the data loggers by mid-May, and to complete the project by the end of the summer.
Ivanis' Seed Fund project is supported by Isla Mar Research Expeditions through the donations received by selling our merchandise. Follow along here and on our social media to watch for the final updates updates on her project!