Project Leatherback Inc. is a South Florida nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of threatened and endangered sea turtles. Our team of experts has been researching sea turtles for over twenty years.
South Florida is home to 5 species of sea turtles, 3 of which nest here regularly each summer. By counting nests and studying these animals in the field, we are better able to monitor trends in population and help local management agencies make better informed conservation decisions. We work with other local nonprofits, state parks, environmental monitoring companies, as well as state and federal management entities.
One of our primary research projects is focused on the endangered leatherback turtle, the rarest of the three species nesting in South Florida. Our team of researchers conducts an intense tagging program on the beaches of Palm Beach and Martin counties each nesting season. Tagging programs are one of the most important tools in wildlife conservation and they utilize tagging data to understand crucial life history information. By tagging individuals and documenting their return throughout the years, we are better able to understand survival, population size, reproductive output, health, and many additional important parameters. These variables are crucial for maintain the recovery of the species.
During leatherback nesting season (March through June), our team surveys as much as 33 miles of beach each night in search of nesting leatherback sea turtles. Each individual is tagged so that she can be uniquely identified. Our staff members have been using these techniques for over fourteen years. As these turtles return over time, we have a better estimate of their reproductive lifespan, the frequency with which they nest, and how many individuals make up the population.
Our surveys begin at 9pm and continue to 5am. Our team of surveyors use all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to survey many miles of coastline. Each time a leatherback is encountered, she is checked for tags. If a turtle has existing tags, we document the encounter and check her for any injuries. If a turtle does not have tags, we give her two small, metal tags in her flippers, and a PIT tag (microchip). These tags will then help us identify her in the future. In addition to tagging each turtle, we take a small skin sample to conduct genetic analysis. Over the years, we have also used satellite tracking technology to study their movement.
Our team has published the results of the first eleven years of this study. We have learned that leatherback turtles nest approximately every two years and each season they can lay as many as 8-9 nests. Each nest produces 50-80 hatchlings. Adult females are approximately 5.5’ long and weigh 600-1,000 lbs. Leatherbacks that nest in Florida utilize the entire Atlantic Ocean, foraging off Canada in the summer and moving to Europe, Africa, and South America in the winter. We have also begun to construct a family tree of the individuals nesting on our study area. These, and numerous other important factors that we’ve uncovered, have helped state and federal managers construct species recovery plans and make informed decisions about our beaches and oceans.
Our program is conducted primarily by volunteers. Hard-working, dedicated individuals give up their nights to search for these incredible animals. We pride ourselves on operating efficiently and keeping our costs low. Our biggest expense is our ATVs. Each night, we use as many as six ATVs along 33 miles of coastline. Harsh, wet and salty conditions and long hours greatly reduce the lifespan of our ATVs. They are driven for 7-8 hours each night and because of the length of beach that we monitor, we simply could not conduct our research without them. Donations of ATVs keep our program running. Project Leatherback Inc. is recognized as a non-profit organization as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Most importantly, our team of hard working volunteers are extremely grateful. Donations keep our turtles safe and help future generations enjoy them as much as we do.
In addition to ATVs, our team uses numerous items in the field during our surveys. A donation of equipment helps tremendously and ensures that this work continues into the future.
|Flipper Tags||Unlimited||$85 per 100|
|Tag Application Pliers||4||$25 each|
|PIT Tags (microchip)||Unlimited||$187.50 per box of 25|
|PIT Tag Reader||4||$660 each|
|Waterproof Field Notebook||10||$19.00 each|
|Field Gear Box||5||$65 each|
|Head Lamp||10||$10 each|
|Pencils||1 pkg – 24 ct.||$7|
|Printer Paper||5000 sheet box||$47.45|
|AA Batteries||2 – 24-pack||$21.00/box|
|AAA Batteries||2 – 24-pack||$21.00/box|
|Betadine Swabs||5 – 100 ct. Box||$13/box|
|Alcohol Swabs||5 – 200 ct. Box||$5/box|
|ATV Oil||10 – 1 liter bottle||$12 each|