Sea Turtle Research Project

During the last two days of the Costa Rica Research Experience, our students move to the Horizonte research station in the dry microclimate of the Nicoya Peninsula. Here, we expose the students to the diversity of the dry forest but our main purpose is to support an effort by the scientists from Drexel and Purdue Universities to study a sea turtle which is called an Eastern Pacific Green Turtle or some call it a Black Turtle. This particular study is on a pristine beach with no tourists, no development and no infrastructure. The beach is located 20 minutes by vehicle from our research station. Scientists from The Leatherback Trust’s Goldring Marine Biology Research Station join us at Horizonte to brief our students on this new research project and prepare the students for undertaking beach patrols from 8PM to 3AM in the morning. The philosophy is to expose our students to the whole concept of wildlife research (in this case turtle research), how it is done, why we care about turtle population health, what it is being done and to physically participate in beach patrols. This is a completely unique experience for most of our North American students. Unfortunately, the summer months are not high-time for turtle nesting, so this is a hit or miss type of experience, nevertheless, the exposure has a high impact on many students.

To extend the turtle research experience in a meaningful way to students who are captivated, Seeds of Change will arrange to bring two students from each participating high school back to this remote beach over a long weekend in December. This is during the high-time in the turtle nesting cycle. A young graduate student from Purdue University has initiated a project to radio tag these turtles to discover their nesting and migratory travel patterns. Seeds of Change participates in this project by providing satellite transmitters and our students are able to experience first-hand the complicated process of satellite tagging a turtle, using ultra sound to test the female for egg capacity, so we know how many times she is due to return for nesting during this nesting season, monitoring the egg laying and following the turtle on her return to the sea by satellite monitoring of the turtles’ radio signal. Our students are coached by the scientists from the Goldring Marine Biology Station as they go through the entire process from first patrolling the beach to locate incoming nesting turtles, on through the overall satellite tagging process which can take up to four hours per turtle. It is during this first-hand exposure that learning takes place on a scale not possible in any classroom environment.

Upon return to their respective high school districts, these students will proceed to make presentations on their experience in the lower grades of the school district to capture younger students’ interest in science. Maps can be projected on a classroom screen showing the location of the turtles tagged in real-time. So, besides learning a new field of science, these students also experience the exhilaration of teaching science.

A Minnesota 501c3 non-profit corporation with a mission of enhancing bioscience education for high school students and creating more science-related careers.
Exposing High School science students to tropical rainforest research in partnership with:
  • The Currie Lab - University of Wisconsin
  • Biochemistry Dept.: School of Medicine at University of Costa Rica
  • Your Community Rotary
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​of SECONDARY SCIENCE EDUCATION
CHANGING the LANDSCAPE
A Minnesota 501c3 non-profit corporation with a mission of enhancing bioscience education for high school students and creating more science-related careers.
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Caption: After the turtle has been ultrasound inspected to prove suitability as a tagging target and after she has finished laying and covering her eggs, students and Goldring scientists prepare the mother turtle by cleaning her carapace, calming the turtle, locating the optimum attach points, and then attaching the transmitter. The process of attaching the transmitter to the carapace with epoxy takes about one hour. This all takes place under red light to provide a natural dark calming setting for the mother turtle. This picture is taken with white light to allow us to show you the process.
Caption: Turtles nest multiple times in a nest season, laying their eggs on one night, and then returning approximately 16 days later to lay a second nest, and then again a third time 16 days later and so on until she has depleted her eggs for the year. Scientists and students use ultrasound to inspect the mother turtle, so as we know how many eggs she has to lay. With this knowledge, we know if this is her second, third or last trip to the beach. On her last trip, she departs the waters and this knowledge helps establish the suitability of the turtle as a recipient for fixing a radio transmitter.

Caption: The students participating in this part of our program return to their school districts and make presentations throughout their school districts on turtle research, turtle science, and what is happening to sea turtles. During the presentation, they bring up on a screen with a map showing where their tagged turtle has traveled after being tagged. Shown here is a turtle five days out and shows she has traveled south about 20 kilometers. Ultimately, we hypothesize that turtles travel hundreds of kilometers, but the research purpose is to answer that question.