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International Sea Turtle research projects underway by graduate students

Research abroad on sea turtles is being conducted by two graduate students from the Coastal Marine & Wetland Studies program this summer.

Both students are working under Eric Koepfler in the Marine Science Department.

Mandy Cuskelly, who has returned from her field study in Costa Rica, is investigating “the effect of microhabitat characteristics on nest site selection of Leatherback Sea Turtles.” The Leatherback turtles are the world’s largest sea turtles, weighing in at 550 to 1,500 pounds. One of the most important nesting locations in the Atlantic Ocean is along the east coast of Costa Rica, at the Pacuare Reserve.

Cuskelly spent five weeks at the reserve intercepting nesting female turtles and examining the geological and physical factors that characterized their nesting sites. Of interest in her study is what causes the highly patchy nesting activities seen on the Pacuare Reserve beach.

Across the Atlantic and working out of Greece, Chanel Comis is currently conducting her research on “orientation preference of loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) hatchlings in Kyparissia Bay, Greece.”

Comis is placing buoyant glow stick tags on tethered loggerhead hatchlings to observe how they orient and move as they progress from their nesting beach to the waters offshore in the Mediterranean sea. The Loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean are cousins to those nesting along the South Carolina coast. Comis is investigating whether the early juvenile movements of Kyparissia Bay hatchlings differ in terms of important navigational stimuli given the more constrained and complicated landscape of the Mediterranean shoreline. Central to Comis’ study is the possibility that the Kyparissia Bay hatchlings use magnetic navigation, similar to what has been found for loggerhead hatchlings coming from U.S. beaches.

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