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Interview 10:40 - 55:58 Play 10:40 - More
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Sarah Mitchell  

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Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
Jun 1997

    Geography
  • United States
    Georgia
    Locality
  • 32.0 km E of Sapelo Island; Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
    Latitude/Longitude
  • 31.4   -80.93333
    Channels
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Recorders
    Microphones
    Accessories
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo

NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS
Gray's Reef log
Sarah Mitchell and the sea turtles
DAT 3

G 00:54-9:14 ambi -radio talk reo weather, with some boat rocking in bg -about hurricane season.....safety procedures, sounds like a recording...NOAA weather station.... [waiting on gray's reef]

**8:28 -at gray's reef . ....

MS, sennheisers with the rapt?

SARAH MITCHELL INTERVIEW

10:40 SM -i am sarah mitchell i am the education and outreach coordinator for gray's reef national marine sanctuary....and 1 am doing some of the work that a marine biologist would do

CJ -and you spend a lot of time studying and tagging the animals that live on the reef

SM -we do that as often as possible -working in the ocean and doing biological research -are often quite difficult. the conditions are very different than working on land. biologists already face many adverse conditions, but when you add weather and boats and the marine environment then your opportunities are reduced in many cases

11:24 cj -tell me what is unusual about gr in terms of the sea life that is there -how does it differ from other places on the coast, other marine sanctuaries?

11:36 sm -gr has a particularly diverse group of invertebrates on the reef and one of the reasons for that is that it is a hard bottom area ... and that provides a point of attachment for many of the marine inverts. for miles of water around this area there are scattering of hard bottom areas and each of them really function as an oasis bc it provides a point of attachment. so you have got large areas that have been described as a watery desert and once you come to these hard bottom areas you have got a tremendous diversity of life. and once you have that point of attachment for sponges, marine algae, tunikits and briazoin, then you are able to see the entire spectrum of the food chain all the way up to the very large organisms like sharks and divers. so you also attract humans to the area.

cj -so hard bottom is what sets it up biologically. it is also something called a ledge community?

12:42 sm -it is a ledge community. and one of the very interesting things about diving and observing the life on gr is there are w/in those hard areas diff habitat types. you've got area where sponges and green algae would choose to colonize on top of the reef. you've got very vertical surfaces when the edge of the reef drops down to a sandy floor and there are areas underneath the reef where you provide ledges where you frequently see morae eels or fish like grouper that will dart out and grab their prey and go back into hiding 13:15

CJ -there is a whole array of unusual or you could say bizarre animals here things i have never heard of, people have never heard of -sea pork -what is sea pork?

sm -sea pork is a tunicate. many of the marine inverts that we are looking at at gr, sea pork is actually more closely related to humans bc of a proto-neurochord that a sea pork has, and most people are familiar w/sea pork in this area and it actually got its name bc it looks like a piece of pork fat. pinkish in color, it has a little translucence to it and it comes in big blobs and rolls up on the beaches and often beach combers find it and wonder what it is.

cj -they find it just rolled up like a pork rind?

sm -that's right, about the size of your fist

MORE ABOUT THE SEA PORK .....and NOTACORDS, and URCHIN SPECIES ....

SM reading the list of species: (soft waves hitting side of boat)

15:31 sm: sea pork, tunicate, giant hermit crab, arrow crab, spiny lobster, acorn barnacle, slight pencil urchin, gray sea star, spiny brittle star, badda tulIa, emperor helmet, clams, scallops, oysters, the atlantic wing oyster, atlantic long finned squid, common octopus ...

PLANE

17:17 fan worm, atlantic tube worm, bushy buggala, feathery hydroid, sea nettle, branch sea web, sea fan, ivory bush coral, armored sea anemone, vase sponge, chicken liver sponge, red finger sponge, loggerhead sponge, finger sponge, sulfur sponge,

17:44 cj-that's a lot of animals. is there any other place in the world that would have this many different types of animals in one single spot?

sm-there are, and we think of the rainforest as having a tremendous diversity of animals but when we look at these large categories of animals, when we are looking at phyla -large groups -then the oceans are the place to go for that. so the diversity of life is tremendous and irreplaceable in the oceans. gr is very fortunate bc it is place in a temperate zone, the water temps range from the low to mid 50s in the winter in jan and feb to the mid 80s in the summer. so that means 2 things. one is that means the animals that can't move from an area like gr -that attached organisms must be able to tolerate that range or they must be able to recolonize that area when the water temps suit them again or they migrate into the area or are brought in by currents and live there during the times that is w/in their range of tolerance. so we have a diversity of species which very seasonably. we have diff assemblages of organisms there in the summer than we do in the winter time

19:02 cj -now right now when you dive on gr you are after one particular animal

sm -yes. we are after one particular creature that in habitats at least part of its life span at gr and other areas like the ledges that are found in the sanctuary. that is the loggerhead sea turtle

cj-why is the loggerhead so important?

19:22 sm -well, i first realized the importance of the loggerhead and other sea turtles when i was growing up in florida. a man named archie car -PAUSE FOR WATCH ALARM GOING OFF ¬

22:30 PICK (motor boat in bg) cj -when you go down are you looking for one animal in particular or a special animal? tell me about that ¬

22:39 sm -i am looking for the loggerhead sea turtle ...my interest in sea turtles first began as i was growing up and living near archie car ... [more about ARCHIE CAR] bc of the work he did we now have a body of knowledge of sea turtles that is extraordinary. but most of the info in fact almost all of it we have is about the sea turtles while they are on their nesting beaches. so we know most about the sea turtles while their are digging nests, how many eggs they lay, seasons that they lay eggs in, we know a tremendous amount about that. and it is also we are able to offer our best protection effort. so here we have a species. all sea turtles in the world are either endangered or threatened or certainly protected, and almost all of what we know comprises a very narrow part of their life cycle. one of the large gaps in the info of sea turtles world wide is info on the males. we can spot them on planes mating off shore. and other than that we have practically no info onthe pathways they use in the ocean. the times of yr or they are eating. their patterns of sleep, waking. we don't know much about where they travel through the oceans seasonably to be in warmer waters. they are cold blooded animals so they are effected very much by the ocean water.

24:32 cj -this is an animal that 135 million yrs old. it is one of the oldest animals on the planet. why do you think it comes to gr and why is it that we know so little about it?

24:44 sm -since we are terrestrial animals we are able to follow other animals on land better. that's we are equipped. that's where our adaptations really shine. we are much less adapted to moving in a watery environment. we have scuba tanks and certainly that is essential in capturing turtles in the water so that is why we know about the land based turtles or turtles when they are on land. at gr the ledges in the sanctuary offer for sea turtles both male and female protection from their enemies which other than humans are primarily sharks. a shark can eat right through the shell of a sea turtle and that gives them an opportunity so they can rest wlo having to worry about those kind of predators. in fact we see them completely inside caves and underneath ledges at gr. now one thing that is really surprising when you see a reptile sleeping underwater is remembering is that it breathes with lungs. so it comes to the surface periodically it holds its breath and actually stores indifferent parts of its body and then it goes underneath the ledge. and it can stay much longer underneath the ledges at gr during the cooler times of the yr bc its entire metabolism has slowed down. in the summer we may only see them underwater for 20 or 30 mins at a time. in the winter they should be able to stay underneath the water for hrs at a time 26:17

cj -with the turtle being such an ancient species are you able to learn more about the history of all animals by looking at such an old creature?

26:29 sm -one of things we are looking at with the loggerheads are the habitat needs that it requires and that does translate into being able to ask questions that are the best questions to ask in protection of other species. that is one of the reasons that we do so much work on the loggerhead sea turtle is bc there are more of them. it is listed as threatened in this country and is very abundant in some areas. other species are more rare and it would be much more damaging to the species to study them if the means of studying them are capture and release or other things that may change their patterns. so the loggerhead is very important for us to use as a study animal. one of the things that we are finding with the association of gr and the sea turtle is that shelter -a place to rest -a refuge for them is critical for them they are certainly feeding at the reef and we know that they are big eaters of crabs and even horse shoe crabs and a variety of others that are there as well as conchs and welks ¬very heavy bodied shells -they are very well equipped with their jaws ...so that bc of the structure of gr we have a greater abundance of a food source for this animal and for other animals. so by looking at the food chain we see associations that will give us answers but also allow us to ask more and more appropriate questions.

28:56 -cj -one of the things that you do is you catch these turtles -how big are they, how heavy -they are strong swimmers what is it like to catch one of these turtles?

sm -the loggerhead turtle is a very big turtle and got its name bc its neck and head are so large i think of them sometimes of being the linebackers of the sea turtle family. they weigh in at 300 plus lbs. their shell called a carapace is about 3 feet or one meter in length. so it takes at least 2 or 3 divers to be able to capture on of these turtles under water. and the real secret to capturing this turtle is that we need to be able to find it while it is resting or asleep underwater. so to search for them we look very closely underneath the ledges and in the caves. we use flashlights bc of course it is very dark and once we see the turtle in that beam of light the divers set up so that the net with a very large opening 2 big steel bars open up just like a big pocket book with the webbing as the catch net so we wake up the turtle -we wake it up just as you would a small child. and as it comes out from the ledge it swims itself into the net and divers assist taking the turtle from the bottom ¬about 60 to 65 feet of water to the surface where a boat is waiting for the turtle and the divers

30:44-32:38 jet skier in the bg, waves hitting side of boat (jet skier no good -too far away)

cj -so once you get turtle ...what happens next?

32:47 -sm -there are people waiting on the boat w/a lift net that was especially designed just to take a large sea turtle out of the water and on to the boat and we have mechanical assistance ....so we slide the lift underneath their body while they are still in the water and the entire lift takes the animal on to the surface of the boat. it also gives us an opportunity to weigh the turtle. we attach a scale on to the lift device.

CJ -is the turtle struggling? ....

sm -periodically the turtle does struggle, particularly when we are bringing it up on the net. but the net is very soft yet very strong webbing and so it holds the turtle w/o any chance of damage to the animal and once it is on board we will place the animal on top of a tire ...and that elevates the top of the turtle with a fairly soft surface, and they don't seem to mind too much once they are on board a boat

33:54 CJ -no danger to the turtle, but what about danger to you? they have got big sharp mouths and powerful jaws.

sm -one of the things that all of the divers in the water are very careful of and very conscious of is the mouth of the loggerhead. these turtles are very used to eating very heavy bodied crustacean and so we stay completely away from the mouth. we hold it from the sides and hold the top of the shell behind the head just as you would with many wild animals as you are working with them. so the sea turtle are very passive animals. they particularly do not want to hurt a human. their only thought is just to get away from where we are.

cj -and once on board you are attaching a satellite transmitter to them?

sm -we are attaching a satellite transmitter to the top of the shell of the sea turtle. and a transmitter is 3 inches by 3 inches by 5 inches. so considering the size of the sea turtle it is really very small and it glued to the top it has an antenna that is about 5 inches long. and each time that sea turtle comes to the surface of the ocean to take a breath of air the antenna will break the surface of the water and if a satellite is passing overhead at that time then a transmission of over a weeks worth of data will be transferred to the satellite back down to a land station and we will be able to read that info at the office of gr.

35:25 cj -what kind of data is it collecting?

sm -we will be able to tell not only the latitude and the longitude of where the sea turtle is -so we will be able to put together a connect the dot path of the travels of each sea turtle, but will also get a complete dive profile which means we will know how deep the animal is diving and how long it is staying in each area of depth of water. and that will give a tremendous amount of info. for ex. if at gr we see that the sea turtle has just spent an hour in waters that are 60 feet deep ¬the sea turtle has been moving in waters that are only 30 feet from the surface we will have a pretty good idea that it was swimming around feeding. if the same turtle spent an hour on the bottom at 60 feet then there is a chance that they are eating something different like horse shoe crabs ...or it maybe stationary and resting under a ledge. so by seeing where an animal is in the water column and where with the latt. and long. on a map, and how long it is staying in each of those areas we are able to ask better and better questions and get more and more info about the entire life style of that animal

36:38 cj -in a sense, gr is like an oasis and you are waiting for the turtles to show up and grab them and tag them

sm -well, we have watched the reef -we dive frequently -we dive yr round at gr doing many different research projects in addition to the loggerhead project and so we see individuals repeatedly at the reef. there are areas of ledges where we go where almost every time we are able to see sea turtles. so we think that they are in the sanctuary at the oasis waiting for them to call.

37:14 cj -depends on your point of view i guess. tell me what it is like to surf a turtle ....

37:33 sm -while we are diving and capturing these large animals the most imp thing for us is to be able to get the animal safely and quickly into the net and get the animal transported to the surface as quickly as we possibly can on to the boat, attach the transmitter which only takes a couple of hours and release the animal right back in the same place where we captured him. there are occasions where a turtle gives us different opportunities to get it into the net as happened with one of the first captures and the sea turtle took us on a short circle and then back into the net ....

38:12 cj -it was a little more difficult than that -you were down there with reed and alex ...

sm -i have done a lot of work with loggerhead sea turtles on nesting beaches, but this was probably the largest loggerhead sea turtle that i or alex and reed had ever seen ... [sm tells story of difficult turtle] ....40:12 he made a very large hole in the net ...the entire process took ....45 mins ....

41:07 cj -how many turtles have you tagged so far?

sm -there has been a total of 3 turtles caught and one turtle has been tagged. and the one withe tag on it has been tagged at the flower garden banks nms which is in the gulf of mexico.

cj -where is it now?

sm -the turtle is still at flower garden banks and we get frequent reports from it. it is a juvenile male, so it will be particularly interesting turtle to study bc we will see not only the juvenile but the transition into the adult stage and that is the time when we think males sea turtles begin to move greater distances than they did when and possibly lead us to how or if they establish territories

42:21 cj -tell me a little bit about the plans you have for educating the public about gr and turtles

sm -what are we working on now is being able to broadcast programs live from the bottom of the sanctuary which is in about 60 to 65 feet of water. we would like to be able to set up this communications so that it is 2way. so that students across the state of georgia will be able to very easily across a fiber optic system connect to the satellite or microwave connection. but it will be available not only throughout north america but across the internet -alive broadcast so that any viewer will be able to contact us and we will be able to respond almost immediately to that question. 43:07

cj -now when you say a viewer -i would be able to be sitting in a classroom, looking at a monitor or screen and see an actual picture of 60 feet down in gr?

43:17 sm -yes. and on most days you will see a group of divers that will be there as well and it will be the divers that you are directly communicating with. so what we would like to be able to do is really bring science into the classroom and have science as a living topic to study instead of a more historical account as has been done in the past ...we would like to involve students and like to be able to provide water samples or diff kinds of sampling so that they will be able to continue research in their classrooms, but they will be able to do the kind of work that we are doing real time in the location that is being done

cj -what do you have to do to make this happen?

sm -[talks about cooperation from navy and coastguard... J we will be partnering with us f&w and the GA dept of natural resources and the sea turtle monitoring project and each of thse agencies is offering diff components to enhance and in fact make possible these kind of on going broadcasts.

44L34 cj -how soon will that happen?

sm -this is alreadyin the works and it is a matter of setting up the technology and getting everything on line

cj -you have to be able to do for marine sanctuaries what people have been able to do for terrestrial parks, parks on lands, and that is make the public understand not only that they are there, but that they are exciting and interesting and different. is that a difficult task?

45:04 sm -it is true, and what is really imp. to us is to bring the reef to people on land. into classrooms and into homes. bc most people don't scuba dive or have an opportunity to visit the reef and see the wonders that are there. so we design all of the educational and outreach programs so we can bring it to the people. it is much easier to visit yellowstone or the other parks that are on land. so that is something that we keep in mind everyday.

45:35 cj -one more thing about turtles -when you go over the side now, how do you find a turtle -what do you look for? whatis your method of operation?

45:44 sm -that is a question that we have been looking at for the last 3 yrs. as we dive we have been very aware of where turtles are I where we frequently see them -also we know something about their needs. we know that they need to be able to have a sheltered place where they can rest or seek refuge, so those are the areas that we go explore. we go right along the vertical surfaces and the undercut surfaces of the ledges and that's where we find the turtles. also even during the times that we see turtles swimming in the water it is a wonderful opportunity for us to observe them and for us to get video of them so we can get them into classrooms. we could never outswim a sea turtle. so if we are going to capture one we must find it underneath a ledge.

cj -and then you pull it out?

36:32 sm -we don't even pull it out. we just gently tap it on the shoulder and as it comes out then we have the net held open in front of it and it swims into the net

cj -are you ever feeling a little guilty about doing this?

sm -no, not at all. and in fact we are so careful that there is very little inconvenience to the turtle, and we know that this kind of research is going to be what really makes a difference of being able to have effective long term protection for this species. since almost everything we do know is really centered around the nesting females. this is a tremendous gap of knowledge that all researchers that are studying turtles are only starting to look at. and the sanctuary is very unique and has been able to fit right into that puzzle piece .... the offshore component is not only a week link but a week area of knowledge ...47:49

48:22 sm -students will join the gr staff in the research projects that we are doing, primarily by observation although we are working on ways of bringing more and more hands on activities into those classrooms. one of the components of the turtle research is that we will work with not only the internet access but w/a number of large museum exhibits .. and offer real time data that is coming in from these satellites. so students will be able to look at half a dozen or more turtles that will be tagged in the atlantic ocean around gr sanctuary and in the gulf and they will be able to follow them for approx. a yr or the length of time that the transmitters still have battery life. so they will be able to see dive profiles, and how the habits change from spring to summer to fall to winter. they will be able to see the movements as they go up and down the coasts or they will be able to see at the same time that the researchers see that some of these turtles stake out territories and stay in one place. one of the things that is really exciting for us at gr is that it is just as exciting for researchers who have been doing this for decades to find out where these turtles are and where they are going as it is for a 3rd grader or an undergraduate student at a university. it is such new info 49:54

49:55 -boat/jet ski passing ..... .

51:10 -boat wake ..

sm -project students can work on -....52:35 that's the key ¬the active process. by involving students in research so that they are truly a part of the process will lead to a level of excitement that just can not be replaced by reading about something after it has been completed and a paper has been written. the students can ask questions and sometimes they ask questions that don't occur to adults and they may influence in that direction ...... .

53:20 sm -one of the things that has happened just recently is that northern atlantic right whale which is the most endangered large whale in the world we have started studying the patterns, the migration movements the behavior patterns of this animal. this study has been lead by the new england aquarium ....by looking at the movt of the right whales as we are now doing withe loggerhead sea turtles we have found out where they are in the ....about changes made bc of the research....

54;33 cj -in addition to being an educator and a biologist you are a diver. what is it like to dive on gr?

54:41 sm -diving at gr is different every time you go down. it is such a healthy reef system. if divers are used to being south in the caribbean or the bahamas and they are used to seeing certain areas of die off or diff diseases coming or going....but at gr the hard surface is the limiting commodity. that is what determines the amount of growth that can be there and every square inch of that reef is just covered with vibrant, healthy, living, colorful inverts and other animals swimming underneath the ledges and above it. there is always something that grabs your imagination and grabs your interest and it is diff every month of the yr bc we do have such seasonal changes unlike many of the many tropical reef systems. and not only does it change seasonably but it changes night and day.....56:02

56:03 -56:31-ambi waves hitting boat

end of DAT

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