By Teres Vazquez, Photo by Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
The Sanibel- Captiva Conservation Foundation launches a new app allowing citizens to report in-water sightings of healthy sea turtles–increasing the ways they can aid in the protection of the turtles.
“Anyone can download the app and survey. It was designed to be easy to use,” SCCF Marine Laboratory Manager A.J. Martignette said. “The hope is people who are on the water on a regular basis, like charter captains will use it.
SCCF’s new app is found within an established app called ArcGIS Survey123, developed by ESRI— a geographic information system (GIS) software company.
“It is used to gather and analyze spatial data,” Martignette said.
The lightbulb moment for the app came when SCCF Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan showed Martignette–who had already created a sighting survey for staff use– a similar app.
Once downloaded, users can search for the survey titled: “SCCF Sea Turtle Sightings.”
To take full advantage of the app, participants must enable access to their “location,” or GPS coordinates, camera roll, and camera.
Granting access allows the app to automatically log the coordinates of the sightings and permits users to attach photos and videos of the event. Tracking the location of the turtle is an important mission of the app.
Sloan explained that although the app is not necessarily a research initiative surveying could guide further research questions regarding location.
“The reports could guide future research questions – for example, if lots of turtles are seen in a certain area, it might be worth exploring what makes that location high quality habitat,” Sloan said.
Moreover, it will allow SCCF to better protect the turtles if they are aware of their whereabouts.
“For example, if a cluster of turtles are observed in areas of high boat traffic, we could notify boaters and request a voluntary no wake zone to help prevent boat strikes,” Sloan said.
Beyond location, the survey will ask simple questions regarding the sighting. “Such as do you know what species the turtle is, do you think it is a juvenile or adult,” Martignette said. An “unknown” option will be available for those who are unsure how to answer.
Participants filling out the survey can choose to do so anonymously or can provide their name and email address. Those who do provide their information may receive follow up questions from SCCF scientists.
As of now, sightings can be reported within a limited area from Charlotte Harbor south to Bonita Beach Road. Expanding the reach may occur in the future, Martignette said.
On the shore, the first loggerhead nest of the season was discovered and marked on April 27 by SCCF volunteers Michael Galloway, Lynn Meline, and Irene Nolan on the East End of Sanibel.
As the season continues up until October, residents and visitors of the island should recall nesting season protocol. Now, they can add the app to the list and report in-water sightings of healthy sea turtles.
Any other issues with sea turtles, should be reported to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-3922.
To help the SCCF sea turtle team download the ArcGIS Survey123 and become a citizen scientist.
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