Evaluating green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) nutritional needs and the effectiveness of education at a sea turtle rehabilitation center
Bloodgood, Jennifer Claire Garrison
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There are seven species of sea turtles worldwide, and all are of conservation concern. When sea turtles are found stranded, injured or diseased, they are often rescued and brought into rehabilitation care facilities such as the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC). During rehabilitation, proper nutrition is paramount to the healing process. Green sea turtles are unique among the sea turtles in that hatchlings and young juveniles are carnivorous while later life history stages (juvenile to adult) are primarily herbivorous. Current understanding of this species’ dietary requirements is poor and, since proper nutrition is key to recovery, this can significantly impact the rehabilitation process of injured or diseased green sea turtles. One goal of this project was to compare nutritional parameters of rehabilitated green sea turtles to baseline nutritional parameters in healthy free-ranging green sea turtles in order to understand the impact of diet on health and recovery during rehabilitation. A suite of blood nutritional parameters, stable isotope and fatty acid analyses, and gastrointestinal flora (using metagenomics) were evaluated. Because green turtles are an endangered species, rehabilitation and release of healthy animals is important to the status of wild populations. Rehabilitation, however, is a contentious issue. Some people believe it is a diversion of resources, but most people believe rehabilitation of endangered species is worthwhile. One thing most people agree on is the value of rehabilitation education. It has been shown that rehabilitation centers with public education as a major objective play a critical role in conservation. I proposed that the GSTC and other similar facilities can act as boundary organizations for conservation, translating scientific research in a way the general population can enjoy and get excited about. In order to study this concept, I developed and implemented survey instruments for use within the education department at the GSTC. Information gained from this study will enable rehabilitation centers to understand how they can serve as boundary organizations for conservation as well as how they can make dietary modifications that will enhance the recovery process of green sea turtles.