Science in Seconds: Saving Sea Turtles

Science in Seconds: Saving Sea Turtles

Meet the Scientists Behind FAU’s Leatherback Research

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 examines 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, DVM, Ph.D., associate 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.

In addition to studying leatherbacks, Page serves as the Harbor Branch associate director of education and a clinical veterinarian for the Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Stranding, Health & Rehabilitation program, and provides veterinary services for the Harbor Branch campus. Her research interests include animal diseases and health and how they affect marine organisms.

2022 Art of Science Winner

Sea Bound by Derek Aoki, 2022 AoS Winner

Derek Aoki was a winner in last year's Art of Science contest with this picture of a leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) hatchling crawling to the ocean minutes after emerging from its nest on Juno Beach, Fla. Leatherbacks are the largest species of sea turtle, and in the next 15 to 25 years, this tiny hatchling will transform into a 1,000-pound adult. The global leatherback population is declining, and the northwestern Atlantic Ocean subpopulation is considered endangered. This highlights the need for continuous monitoring of this species to promote the conservation and recovery of this important subpopulation.

The FAU Division of Research’s annual Art of Science Contest is now open for 2023 submissions, for faculty, students and staff to share their science and research photographs.

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