Changing Seas


Photography by Christian de Rosario. Research conducted under FWC Marine Turtle Permit MTC-205.

Changing Seas

Doctoral Student Studies How Warming Seas Impact Marine Turtles

Despite the fact that leatherback sea turtles face threats around the world, the Florida population shows stabilization or increase in numbers in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean — and Derek Aoki, a doctoral student at FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, is watching them closely.

Aoki recently presented at FAU's Marine Science and Oceanography Colloquium about examining the environmental and human impacts to leatherback sea turtles, including their movement patterns, health and nesting, in both the U.S. and Costa Rica. His advisor, Annie Page-Karjian, DVM, Ph.D., assistant research professor at FAU Harbor Branch, leads the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Medicine and Research Program.

Using a combination of methods, like satellite tags and blood samples, Aoki said he tracks the turtles and identifies their migration routes and feeding grounds. He’s also developing a technique with machine learning algorithms to assess body mass and condition for nesting females using drone photography.

“Warming temperatures have already started to affect leatherback behavior and movements, which is a very important topic and cause for concern,” said Aoki, adding his next task is to figure out why.

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