FIU@Home: Explore hurricane impacts on sea turtle behaviors

Written by Courtney Knauer
November 19, 2020

As the most active hurricane seasons on record in the Atlantic comes to a close, people are realizing we need to adjust how we prepare for and recover from storms that are more frequent and powerful.

But people aren’t the only ones who need to make adjustments. A whole range of animals have to adapt their behavior in response to a storm’s aftermath. FIU marine biologists are examining how Caribbean green sea turtles respond.

As herbivores that feed on seagrass, where sea turtles choose to spend their time is often driven by the amount of food available. Major hurricanes can remove seagrass, limiting the habitats available. This can also lead to invasive species replacing the native seagrasses.

“Increasingly severe storms because of climate change are testing the eating behaviors of green sea turtles like never before,” Elizabeth Whitman, assistant teaching professor of biological sciences, said. “Our job as scientists is to investigate how they respond to and adjust their role in a changing ecosystem.”

So how does she do it? Along with colleagues like Jeremy Kiszka, they create underwater quadrats to examine what adaptations green sea turtles are making to their seagrass-based foraging. 

These innovative techniques coupled with ongoing efforts at the Marine Community and Behavioral Ecology Lab are helping us understand how animals respond to environmental changes in these valuable habitats. FIU has been ranked No. 9 in the world for positive impact on life below water by The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. The university ranked third in the United States and is the only institution in the state of Florida to make the list.

Now what?

There are many ways to continue exploring the world of sea turtles:

All across the globe, researchers are investigating important questions and uncovering new discoveries. Follow FIU@Home for more virtual tours from around the world.