What they’re into … with Brittany Biber (Sea turtle trainer)

I am sure you know by now, but this is a series I have been featuring each Tuesday this summer to get a special sneak peek at the different personalities behind the scientists, activists, and educators (including bloggers) who play an integral role in the marine science conservation field. It’s essentially an extension of the overwhelmingly popular and well done Tumblr blog, This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, (BCS was featured in April!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I’ve sent a list of 15 random questions to some folks I know and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them. Here you get a glimpse into what one of my old co-workers who is lucky enough to interact with sea turtles everyday is into, introducing Brittany Hascup Biber.

Brittany works at Florida Oceanographic Society’s Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island in the Aquarium and Life Support Department. Her responsibilities include food preparation, quarantine treatments, and medication dispersal for all the marine life property. The animals on site range from estuarine species such as snook and red drum to sharks, rays, and smaller reef species. In addition to the gilled animals, she also cares for three non-releasable sea turtles, two green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and one loggerhead (Caretta caretta). All of the sea turtles on site have been deemed non-releasable due to buoyancy issues. Lily, the 140lb loggerhead, was struck by a boat and has deep scars on her carapace that serve as a good reminder to why obeying boating rules and regulations is so important. Turt, the 90lb green turtle pictured right, has a spastic intestine and must be administered medication every other day to allow him to swim through the water column with ease. Hank the smallest is still a juvenile and weighs around 50lbs. He has carapace deformities that probably led to his floatation problems. Because these turtles will never be released back into the wild they must get accustomed to interactions with their caretakers so that they are calm and receptive when they need to be fed, weighed, or cleaned. She have been in charge of the training and care of the turtles on site since they each arrived here. Each turtle has its own colored “target” that they have been trained to respond to. When the target is placed in the water the corresponding turtle swims over and receives its food and medicine if needed. The training is done every day for all the turtles and it allows her to have daily interactions and alone time with each turtle away from the other animals housed in the 750,000 gallon lagoon they call home. Training the turtles is always the best part of her day, and she says she may be tooting her own horn but she think it is the turtles’ favorite time of day as well (probably since she’s feeding them). When she graduated from college she hoped to work in the animal husbandry field and she is proud to be doing just that. So even though most days she smell like fish and squid she get a chance to interact with species most people rarely get to see and she says she learns something new about them everyday and it makes all the stinky stuff worth it. Brittany has a B.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Central Florida. You can reach Brittany at bbiber@floridaocean.org.

What is the last thing you bought that you shouldn’t have?
An overpriced bikini.

 What is your favorite fruit flavor?
It’s a tie between watermelon and pineapple.

Are you a night owl or a morning person?
Night owl, I love sleeping and my bed always seems super comfy when I have to get up for work.

What is your favorite room in your home?
My back porch that overlooks the river, I love watching the wading birds like the Eastern oystercatcher and great blue heron feed on the shore. 

What is your favorite scent?
Coconut, because it makes you smell like you’ve been at the beach all day.

What is your favorite pastime?
Going on the boat with my husband; it’s nice just being with each other away from the responsibilities that wait for us on land.

Thank you for participating, Brittany! It was a honor to read about your interesting day at work.

Don’t forget to read the rest of the “What they’re into …” series.

More on marine debris …

I suppose this post is inspired by my frequent visits to populated beaches and the marine debris I’ve been collecting with the help of anyone that asks what I am doing. I hate scare tactics, but pictures make a big impact when it comes to what happens with what we leave behind on the beach. The effects are long lasting and unfortunately out of sight. This is just a little reminder that I hope you share.

No balloons at the celebration for the Beach Chair Scientist …

Today is the fourth birthday of the Beach Chair Scientist blog. Despite the fact that some companies label latex balloons as ‘biodegradable’ and therefore, ‘safe’ for the environment, I will not be decorating any birthday celebration with balloons. Balloons blow! What has been widely spread is that latex balloons breakdown at ‘the same rate as an oak leaf from a tree‘. First, let me explain ‘latex’. Latex is a white tree sap of rubber particles from the plant, Hevae brasiliensis. After it is processed it becomes rubber. Rubber, as we know, is used in a variety of products because of its strong resilience and tear resistance. Balloons are made from latex (essentially, liquid rubber) once colors are added.

It just would not feel like a celebration for Beach Chair Scientist because I have been to countless beach clean-ups and see those latex and mylar balloons, as well as the strings that are tied to them, along the shoreline. Balloons are just not following the path that balloon manufacturers want us to believe. It may be true that research done in a controlled setting proves that when latex balloons rises to almost 30,000 feet they will freeze and bust into tiny slivers that fall back to earth. However, there are just too many natural factors (e.g., trees, wind) that impede balloons from rising to that height prior to losing their helium and flaying to the earth whole. Not to mention that even if latex balloons do break apart into tiny shards the tiny shard are still detrimental to the ocean. According to Sea Turtle Foundation, “Most balloons are made from ‘biodegradable’ latex, which degrades on exposure to air. However degradation can take up to six months and balloons floating in seawater can take up to twelve months to degrade”. In many areas it is illegal for mass balloon releases. Please check out your area for the local laws on balloons.

Here are ten examples of balloons affecting the ocean ecosystem:  

  1. On a New Jersey beach a sperm whale was found dying because it had a balloon in its stomach halting the passage of food.
  2. At a clean-up was on an island 5 miles out to sea – the distance cleaned at the 4 sites we targeted was about 1/2 mile of shoreline – in southern Maine this past June over 550 pounds of marine debris were found, including 232 pieces of debris (9 of which were balloons and one was found right next to a gull’s nest).
  3. Birds will collect plastic debris for their nests, and unknowingly construct death traps for their young.
  4. Balloons, plastic straws, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and metal beverage cans were found to be the most abundant type of marine debris litter as a 10-year national survey completed in 2008.
  5. Most of the trash found along the California coast during a 2003-2010 survey was 82% land-based plastics, including plastic bags, plastic bottles, balloons and straws.
  6. Fishing gear fragments, packaging materials, balloons, bottle caps, and straws were found to be the most common items found during a Cape Cod survey that collected 5,829 items along one-kilometer.
  7. A leatherback turtle starved to death because a latex balloon was stuck in its stomach. After the turtle necropsy, the only thing found in its intestines was three feet of nylon string attached to a balloon.
  8. Animals can become entangled in balloon ribbons and string, restricting their movement and their ability to feed.
  9. Bottlenose dolphins in California, loggerhead turtles in Texas, and a green turtle in Florida were all found dead after ingesting latex balloons.
  10. In the UK, Risso’s dolphins in French waters and fulmars in the North Sea are known to ingest balloons.

If you’re still keen on celebrating with balloons try to do activities where you can control them and not have them released into the atmosphere. You can put prizes inside them or decorate them or play games. Below are are alternatives for decorating and commemorating without balloons. Check out the background image from Orlando Sentinel with the juvenile loggerhead turtle swimming close to the floating balloons.

One last thing, if you’re in the DC area Saturday, July 21st and would like to join me during a stream clean-up with United By Blue please feel free to come along! It’s a great event co-sponsored by Subaru and fun for the whole family. Read this article about my first experience volunteering with them. Please feel free to drop me a line at info@beachchairscientist.com or leave a comment below if you have anything else you like to add to this post or just a question in general.

Sea turtle track safari!

With amazing spring temperatures so early this year, sea turtles may begin creeping out of the sea earlier than usual. If you’re in the southeastern U.S. during sea turtle nesting season (typically May through October) you may have the opportunity in the early morning to stumble across the flipper tracks of a female sea turtle that dug a nest the night before.

  • Loggerhead sea turtles tracks alternate (comma-like) left and right flippers and there is no tail mark.
  • Green and leatherback sea turtles use their right and left flippers at the same time to crawl up the beach and they both have tail marks.
  • Leatherback sea turtles are the widest at approximately 6-7 feet across. Leatherback sea turtles travel over 3,000 miles to get to their nesting beaches.

Mother sea turtles lay 100-150 eggs in each nest. They may lay up to 3-8 nests per season. The juveniles hatch after 45-70 days under the cover of darkness.

Please note that it is a federal law to harass, feed, hunt, capture or kill sea turtles in the U.S. Do not interact with any nesting sea turtles as it could be interpreted as harassment. Check out the local National Park Service in the area for information on guided tours to witness a nesting female.

Image from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute: Guidelines for Marine Turtle Permit Holders

Crocodile Hunter’s dad working to save dugongs

Dugongs, a relative of manatees, are found off the coast of Africa and Australia. Steve Irwin’s dad, Bob, is on a mission for an “immediate moratorium on the hunting of endangered dugongs and sea turtles around the Australian coastline by Indigenous hunters.” Politicians have also been calling for the end to the hunting of dugongs and turtles after the 2004 research of Helene Marsh made a serious impact. All of their efforts, coupled with new findings that dugongs spend more time underwater than previously thought, has led Marsh to be more optimistic about the future of the endangered dugong (Although with the recent depletion of sea grass there is still an uphill battle).

4 fun facts about dugongs:

1. Dugongs are very similar in features to manatees but have a fluked tail.
2. In a group, dugongs are called a herd.
3. A common ‘common name’ for the dugong is the ‘sea cow’ since they enjoy grazing on sea grass.
4. All dugongs grow tusks but they only break the skin and are visible in mature males.

Image (c) flickerriver.com

Top 5 beachcomber questions answered

Sea urchin

Image via Wikipedia

Take a look at this quarter’s top 5 reasons folks end up on our site. (Due to the amazing power of WordPress I can see what you’re typing into a search that would lead you here!)

1. How do fish give birth?

2. How do flamingos get their color?

3. What is the biggest fish in the sea?

4. What eats sea urchins?

5. Do sharks have bones?

Anytime you have a beachcombing or ocean related question feel free to email us at info@beachchairscientist.com.

13 apps for your day at the beach

It’s time to get the most out of that last trip to the beach!

Whether you’re ready for a day out on the boat, lounging, beachcombing, catching some waves, or preparing a feast there is an app to get you more involved in your marine environment. Apps are not only a great way to learn something new on the fly but can be a useful tool for engaging one another in settings where you may not have common ground. (OK, at the very least apps settle many ‘discussions’.)

Here is a list of useful and rather attractive apps that can connect you to your inner marine biologist.

AUDUBON FIELD GUIDES: Audubon Fishes of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and Audubon Fishes – A Guide to North American Fishes include photos, geographic ranges, and concise yet detailed descriptions of appearances. Coming soon is the field guide for the Mid-Atlantic shoreline. ($9.99)

OCEANOGRAPHY STUDY GUIDE: If you are into fun oceanography trivia and want to learn more about the geography of the sea than download this app. It isn’t an endless list of “did you know?” facts but rather a large range of topics with well written articles for the serious beach chair scientist. ($4.99)

OFFICIAL APP OF ISSF: The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) was founded in 2008 when leaders of industry, scientists and environmental champions voiced concern over the future of tuna fisheries. This app provides a glossary of terms, videos, and a list of the status of stocks. (Free)

SEA TURTLE APP: This app was created by the Sea Turtle Conservancy and allows you to follow read the latest on sea turtle news but much more exciting you can track the global migration of different sea turtles with interactive satellite tracking maps! (Free)

Enough sitting around – it’s time to get out there and do something:

MOBILE APP FOR IGFA: The International Game Fishing Association created an app for weigh station locations, angler rules and regulations, customizable quests, and advice for trip planning. What more does a sport fisherman need?

MARINE DEBRIS TRACKER APP: This collaboration is brought to you by the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. The reporting of where you find marine debris can help to focus and prioritize federal efforts. The app uses GPS and allows you minimal work of sorting through lists of common marine debris. (Free)

CRAB APP: This app is an offshoot from the marine wild lab and allows you to collect horseshoe crab species data that will be used in scientific research. Horseshoe crabs are of enormous importance to 1) the drug industry due to their blood, 2) to fisheries for bait, and 3) to migratory shorebirds for its eggs.  (Free)

TIDE GRAPH: I found out that there are many, many apps out there to help you monitor the tides. Tide Graph will work for both coasts in the US and provides graphs to help you see how the tide changes over the day and the month. ($1.99)

If you are preparing a feast or gorging on some dockside seafood:

SEAFOOD WATCH: For years the Monterey Bay Aquarium has produced adorable pocket-sized regional cheat sheets so you can get a quick overview of what species are considered over fished or not in your neck of the woods. They continue to produce this application for your iPhone and use GPS tracking to discover where you are so you can get the most relevant information. (Free)

PROJECT FISHMAP: Monterey Bay Aquarium also gets you more involved by asking you to submit information when you find a restaurant or market that advocates sustainable seafood. As the map grows you can see what spots you’ve not uncovered in your neighborhood. (Free)

FISHPHONE APP: With one quick text (example: “fish salmon”) to 30644 Blue Ocean Institute will fed you intel on your species of choice. For instance, they’ll rank the sustainability and toxicity levels and send an overview of its conservation status. (Free)

SAFE SEAFOOD: This app takes information from ten different seafood rankings (including Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Environmental Defense Fund) to create its list. The app outlines choices in an easy to review “best to worst” list. I particularly like that fish with multiple different market names are listed by each of common name too. ($0.99, but 10% of the proceeds go to EDF)

I am certain I missed many wonderful apps. Please do not hesitate to email at info@beachchairscientist.com to share!

Added October 27, 2011: An app for water quality and to get the most up-to-date grade for your beach presented by Heal the Bay in California.

Where is the coral triangle?

After some research I scored a wonderful description of where the world’s most ecologically diverse  marine ecosystem lies. Spanning over six countries this 6 million kilometers squared coral triangle is significant because it is home to six of the seven species of sea turtles. This infographic, produced by World Wildlife Fund, gives a rundown of the protection status of each the sea turtle species as well as a wealth of other great information. For instance, did you know …

… 3000 leatherback sea turtles nested along the coast of Terengganu, Malaysia in 1960? In 2000, according to data from Dr. Chen Eng Heng with the Department of Fisheries in Malaysia, there were none.

… 90% of sea turtle hatchlings never make it to their first birthday.

Take a closer look at the infographic to learn more. Lastly, don’t forget May 23rd is International Turtle Day!

May 23 is World Turtle Day

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

Image via Wikipedia

Did you know that almost half the world’s turtle species are considered threatened?

Founded in 1990, the American Tortoise Rescue sponsors May 23rd each year to “increase respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures”.

Here is a link where you can learn more about sea turtles. Please take some time to share your knowledge about these ancient creatures with your friends and family!

How did the loggerhead sea turtle get its name?

The loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, was given the common name because it has such a massive head.  On this massive head is an incredibly powerful jaw that aids the turtle in consuming any type of food it can get its mouth on. This can include corals, sponges, crabs, jellies, fish, other sea turtles,  sea urchins, and even octopi. They are true omnivores. This jaw is the most powerful jaw of all the sea turtles. Out of all the turtles in the world it has the second most powerful jaw coming in behind the Alligator snapping turtle.

Image (c) treehugger.com