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Hit and Run: Boating risks to Florida’s Sea Turtles

Written by Trenton Aguilar, Ph.D. Student at UF IFAS NCBS & SFRC Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Florida is home to many forms of wildlife, on land, in our rivers and lakes, and in the sea. This diverse wildlife is one of the many reasons while Floridians and many visitors enjoy outdoor recreation throughout the year whether it’s through hiking, fishing, or boating. In fact, Florida has one of the highest numbers of boaters registered in the country. While this recreational industry drives a lot of counties’ economies and a lot of folks’ weekend activities, lawless seas can have dangerous effects on the wildlife that the state cares so much about. This was the case for Florida manatees before manatee zones were introduced to reduce speeds in coastal areas where they were often found. Before these zones were introduced, every year manatees were suffering from boat strikes in these areas that lead to many deaths. Unfortunately, a similar situation is currently happening with Florida’s sea turtle populations.

My Research 

In order to inform managers about how these boat strikes on turtles are happening, where they are most likely to happen, and how it is affecting the turtles’ populations, I will be studying the green turtles of Florida (see left).

Green turtles are found all around Florida’s coasts and unfortunately share many of these areas with large amounts of boaters. This results in a high amount of boating-related injuries and deaths of not only green turtles but all species of sea turtles in Florida such as Loggerheads and Leatherbacks, all of which are listed as endangered or threatened. My work will be looking at how turtles respond to oncoming boats and how the speed of the boat and the size of the turtle affects these responses. This will allow for future management to consider policies that will protect Green turtles, just like they did with manatee zones. I also will be looking into what areas of Florida’s coastal waters are most likely to have these turtle/boater interactions based on what is found in those waters and what habitats are present. Management agencies can use this information to prioritize areas of high importance for conservation.

The final part of my research will be looking at how the Florida population is being affected by these deaths by boat strikes and how it may be affecting things like the number of nests and population growth. Through this research, sustainable practices will hopefully be able to be put in place in the future that will allow for safe recreation for Florida boaters as well as protection for these high value and wonderful animals.

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