Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program

Current Projects and Research Focus

Mote scientists tag a loggerhead sea turtle at night on Casey Key. Photo provided by Greg Nelson.

Kristen Mazzarella, MS
Senior Biologist, Program Manager

For more than 30 years, the Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program has coordinated conservation efforts for 35 miles of Sarasota County shoreline. Throughout the program's history, we have monitored 52,485 turtle activities, protected 5,388 nests from predators, tagged 4,038 nesting turtles, protected 2,088,865 turtle eggs, and watched 1,499,946 hatchlings depart to become a future generation of loggerheads that will return to the region as they reach maturity — in about 30 years.

The program includes staff, interns and volunteers who have documented the status of shoreline habitat and trends in sea turtle nesting. These data show that nesting by loggerhead turtles has declined, then rebounded in recent years, while green turtle nesting — although very low in numbers — has increased. Nest destruction by both natural and non-indigenous predators has also increased during the same time period.

Mote coordinates with county, state and federal efforts to conserve sea turtles — particularly loggerheads, since Sarasota County hosts the highest density of loggerhead nests in the Gulf of Mexico.

Whether humans respect other species enough to protect sea turtles and their essential habitats will depend on the understanding developed by marine conservation biologists. "In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." (B. Dioum, 1968).

The STCRP has multiple internships that allow students to assist with nest monitoring each summer. For the internship description and a link to the application.

Nest Monitoring
The Program plays a key support role to the Florida State Nesting Beach Program and the Index Nesting Beach Program. We evaluate patterns of nesting events and false crawls annually and take action to deter predators like raccoons and fire ants.

The turtle program is responsible for monitoring 35 miles of beach that are patrolled daily during turtle nesting season May through October. Over 3 decades of monitoring, Mote staff, interns and volunteers have walked more than the distance from here to the moon.

The outcomes of the community-based conservation network are summarized at the annual Marine Turtle Permit Holders Meeting, and you can download information on the statewide trends.

Tagging Studies
Tagging studies have continued annually from 1982 to the present on Casey Key during June and July — the peak of the loggerhead nesting season. The studies confirm that loggerhead turtles migrate to nest every two to four years and have reproductive lifespans measured in decades.

Turtles are marked with external flipper tags and Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags. The nocturnal study of nesting turtles provides information on the activity, distribution and movement of turtles on the nesting beach and helps in the assessment of suitable nesting habitats. 

Satellite Tracking
Turtles migrate long distances from feeding grounds back to the beaches where they were born. By attaching satellite transmitters to follow the turtles' migratory journeys, we can better evaluate potential threats far from nesting beaches. Our studies have found that Sarasota turtles journey to distant feeding grounds many hundreds of miles away in the northern Gulf, Mexico, around Cuba and the Bahamas. Follow the turtle migrations at the following links:
Many research projects in Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program were were funded in whole or in part by grants awarded through the Sea Turtle Grants Program, which is funded through proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at

Coastal Development Action and Education
About 20 percent of south Florida's coasts are affected by coastal armoring — the effect of losing sand dunes to sea walls and rock revetments that protect coastal property. Rising sea levels and coastal armoring combine to threaten the sandy dunes that turtles use for nesting habitat and place increased emphasis on protecting the habitats that remain.

Coastal development also includes beachfront lighting pollution, which confuses nesting females and disorients the hatchlings. We work to educate all coastal citizens to be responsible and keep turtles in the dark. Mote's support was essential in developing the Sarasota County Sea Turtle Protection Ordinances and amendments on beachfront lighting.

  • Learn about coastal lighting issues with sea turtles from the documentary "The Dark Side of Light" filmed in Sarasota.  Segment 16:50 to 30:50 covers sea turtles.
  • Sea Turtles Dig the Dark is a reminder to beachfront homeowners to do their part in reducing beach lighting during the sea turtle nesting season.  

Beach Renourishment
Where beaches are eroding and nourished by pumping in sand, Mote's Turtle Program uses a before/after, control/impact approach to evaluate nest and hatching success. When necessary, eggs are relocated to safer areas for successful incubation. Mote has coordinated endangered species monitoring programs for nourishment projects on Longboat Key, Lido Beach, Siesta Key and the City of Venice.

In-water Ecology Studies
Surveys of the waters surrounding Mote's main Lab on Sarasota Bay and field stations in Charlotte Harbor and Summerland Key give us an idea of how turtle populations are responding to in-water hazards like harmful algal blooms and boat traffic. 

In-water capture, documentation and release of turtles provides valuable information on the population of turtles remaining year-round in central Gulf coast waters. The resulting population assessment of adult and juvenile sea turtles in the coastal and estuarine waters provide additional data on this critical life stage and aid in the management and conservation of sea turtles along Florida's central Gulf coast.

Post-Rehabilitation Monitoring
Occasionally, the Program has an opportunity to satellite tag turtles that have undergone rehabiliation in Mote's animal hospitals before they are released. Tagging rehabilitated male turtles is of particular interest because there are few other opportunities to study the habits of male sea turtles at sea. (Female turtles come ashore to nest every few years, but male turtles do not come ashore.) This post-release monitoring also allows us to study post-rehabilitation behavior and provides an indication of successful rehab.

For the Classroom
Teachers who want to integrate sea turtles into their science curriculum can download a recent article from the National Science Teachers Association.

A Special Note about a Hoax
Mote staff members have been receiving questions regarding an e-mail entitled "World Shame on Beaches in Costa Rica."  This e-mail — which claims to show people illegally digging up turtle eggs for later sale — has been circulating for a few years now and is a hoax.

Support Sea Turtles
Don't hide inside your shell. Turtle populations have declined in recent years. We can't ignore that. Nor can we ignore the fact that we desperately need your financial support to bring them back.

Help sea turtles...
  • By walking or running for turtles at our annual Run for the Turtles fundraiser. Click here for more info.
  • You can help sea turtles every time you drive with a Sea Turtle License Plate, which supports sea turtle research, conservation and education across the state. The Sea Turtle Grants Program has awarded over $2.4 million in grants for research, education and rehabilitation projects across Florida since 2001.  Learn more at
  • By making a cash donation now. Click here to donate online.
  • Come to the Siesta Key Crystal Classic on Siesta Key Beach. Proceeds from this event benefit Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program and Mote's Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital. The weekend includes Master sand sculptors competing for prizes money amid live music, hands-on sand sculpting classes, an amateur sand sculpting competition and a vendor village featuring local businesses and educational booths. Click here for more.

Donations are used to build raccoon-proof wire cages (raccoons are a major predator of sea turtle eggs), nest identification markers and tagging equipment.

For Sea Turtle Patrol Volunteers only
Are you a member of Mote's Sea Turtle Patrol?



About Us

Mote Marine Laboratory has been a leader in marine research since it was founded in 1955. Today, we incorporate public outreach as a key part of our mission. Mote is an independent nonprofit organization and has seven centers for marine research, the public Mote Aquarium and an Education Division specializing in public programs for all ages.

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Thursday 24