by Hunter Szewczyk (’24).

I was an intern for Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida doing environmental conservation work. I worked with the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program, where I was on the morning beach patrol that tags, verifies, and excavates sea turtle nests on the beach. We responded to calls from volunteers that called in sea turtle activities. If the activity is a nest, we staked it off, dug to verify the location, as well as took measurements for the database. If the activity was a “false crawl”, or the turtle did not lay eggs in other words, we recorded rudimentary measurements and moved on to the next call. I did this in conjunction with two seasonal biologists, four staff biologists, and 16 other interns to protect the sea turtles nesting on the gulf coast of Florida. As the nesting season progressed, we began verifying nests that were called in, where we dug until we uncovered the first egg to verify that the activity was a nest. The eggs felt like leathery ping pong balls, and were different size and color based on the type of sea turtle it was. After being on the beach all morning, we would enter the data collected into the company database to track nesting success, compare nesting rates across different years, and project population numbers in the area we studied.

Some of the data collected included temperature of the nest cavity, hatch success, and aiding in blood samples for a separate research project. Data on the temperature of the nest cavity was especially helpful because sea turtle gender is temperature dependent, and the warmer the nest cavity is the more it is likely to produce female hatchlings. As the summer progressed and less nests were being laid, we focused on existing nest activities, which were primarily depredations and hatches. Depredations would occur when a predator would dig up the nest and eat the incubating sea turtles in the eggs. If a nest survived all the way through to a hatch, we would aid in rehabilitating the hatchlings if they became disoriented on their way to the water. Mote Marine trained us on proper releasing techniques, and towards the end of the internship we would release the hatchlings ourselves at night. When injured hatchlings were encountered on the beach, we would transport them back to the sea turtle hospital at Mote Marine’s aquarium if they needed further rehabilitation. Throughout the summer, our team documented and protected more than 4,000 sea turtle nests across the 35 miles of coastline monitored. The internship provided me with the necessary attributes to conduct field work as well as bolstered my data entry skills while being able to serve the community around me and preserve wildlife as much as possible.