By Elizabeth Whitman
If you’ve ever explored the tidal creek systems of Abaco, you’ve probably noticed that they are a preferred hangout for juvenile green sea turtles. Abundant seagrass food resources and refuge from predators make these creeks attractive to turtles who will remain there for 10-20 years while they grow and mature to reproductive age.
FIU and FRIENDS are now conducting research into what factors affect the habitat use of green sea turtles, and in turn, how green sea turtles are affecting creek ecosystems through grazing on seagrasses. To do so, I have set up exclosure experiments in the tidal creek systems of the Bight of Old Robinson, Snake Cay, and Hill’s Creek.
All cages were constructed on snorkel using cable ties, rebar stakes, and poultry netting. Full excluder cages fully enclose approximately 3.6 meter square plots and exclude all organisms smaller than the mesh size. Cage controls have one open side to allow fish and turtles to enter the enclosed area.
Control plots are marked by single rebar stakes, and all plots are marked with a buoy that is visible on the surface of the water at high tide. Written on the buoys is the word “RESEARCH” and Friends of the Environment’s phone number so they can be contacted with any questions or concerns regarding the project.
Data collection will include assessments of seagrasses and macroalgae abundance within each plot and seagrass and water samples will be analyzed upon my return to my lab at Florida International University.
The results of this study will allow us to identify factors affecting feeding behavior of green turtles such as food quality and availability within tidal creek habitats.