Improving oceanographic models of bottom temperature within the Mid-Atlantic Bight through novel data assimilation and stakeholder input
 Project Leads: Samir Patel, Jason Clermont
Project Duration: 2018-2020
funded by: NOAA/NMFS Saltonstall-Kennedy (S-K) Grant Program

The proposed project will improve oceanographic models used to forecast temperature within Mid-Atlantic waters and produce continuously updated temperature products for fishermen and managers. We will utilize a collaborative industry-science-management Working Group approach previously developed for the US Atlantic mackerel stock assessment. Specifically, CFF will incorporate several years of temperature data accrued from animal-borne sensors, autonomous ocean gliders, commercial fishing gear, and trawl surveys to improve numerical modeling of the 10oC Cold Pool. Then, we will assimilate the calibrated data into existing Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB) coastal ocean models used in the historic hindcast, contemporary nowcast and future forecast modes.

Using climate change scenarios to project loggerhead turtle distributions in the US Mid-Atlantic
 Project Leads: Samir Patel
Project Duration: 2018-2020
Funded by: NOAA/NMFS Saltonstall-Kennedy (S-K) Grant Program

As reptiles, the distribution of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) is constrained, at least in part, by water temperatures. The temperate waters of the Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB) provide critical summer foraging habitat for a large cohort of juvenile and adult loggerhead turtles, which migrate into the Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB) in the late spring and return to overwintering grounds south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in the fall. Currently, their summer distribution in the MAB is concentrated in the shelf waters from Maryland to New Jersey. However, sea surface temperatures on the northeast US continental shelf are warming faster than in other regions, with the largest anomalies (exceeding 2°C) occurring in the MAB. Warming temperatures along the northeast US continental shelf will likely result in a northward distributional shift, as well as changes in the timing of migration into and out of the MAB. This project will model SST conditions favored by loggerheads in the MAB using a large, long-term satellite tagging dataset. The results will improve understanding of both the current and future distribution of loggerheads in the region and can be used to inform fisheries management practices in areas where overlap with fisheries is high.

Understanding the impacts of the Atlantic sea scallop fishery on loggerhead sea turtles
 Project Lead: Samir Patel
Project Duration: 2018-2020
Funded by: NOAA/NMFS Atlantic Sea Scallop Research Set-Aside (RSA) Grant Program

Our primary objectives are to examine sea turtle distributions, behavior and foraging habits, improve sea turtle bycatch estimates, identify factors impacting bycatch rates and determine the role loggerheads play in impacting sea scallop health. The information collected will aid in evaluating loggerhead abundance estimates, developing scallop-harvesting strategies that minimize harm to sea turtles, and defining critical habitats for loggerheads. To build upon the success of prior Coonamessett Farm Foundation (CFF) turtle behavioral research, the proposed project will tag thirty juvenile and adult loggerhead turtles with water-activated satellite tags. Fifteen tags will be purchased through this project, we and our collaborators at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) have a total of 15 remaining tags from 2016 funding. This work will require two tagging trips totaling 14 days at sea aboard a chartered scallop vessel, the F/V Kathy Ann. The scientists and crewmembers aboard the vessels will conduct turtle sighting surveys for the duration of field operations.

ESA# 18526

Nearshore habitat utilization by sea turtles within Massachusetts waters
 Project Leads: Samir Patel
Project Duration: 2018-2020
Funded by: Massachusetts Environmental Trust

The proposed project will employ a series of chemical tracer techniques using samples collected from dead and live stranded turtles to identify how, when and where turtles are utilizing local habitats prior to cold stunning and stranding in the water around Cape Cod, including Cape Cod Bay, Buzzards Bay, Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound. This region of Massachusetts’ waters presently supports a large number of hard-shelled sea turtle species, specifically Kemp’s ridleys, loggerheads and green turtles, the number of sea turtle strandings within these waters has increased from less than a dozen annually between 1977 and 1987 to over a thousand in 2014. By improving understanding of when turtles arrive within CCW, how long they stay, and what they feed upon locally, we can update management and conservation programs to protect turtles from anthropogenic impacts and perhaps even preempt and reduce stranding events.

Improving the understanding of sea turtle entanglement in vertical lines
 Project Lead: Samir Patel
Project Duration: 2017-2019
Funding provided by: NOAA/NMFS Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program

Between 2002 and 2014, 260 leatherbacks were reported entangled from Maine to Virginia, with 252 entangled in vertical fishing lines. In this project CFF will investigate sea turtle entanglement in vertical lines of  fishing gear within the nearshore waters adjacent to Cape Cod, MA. Our focal areas have a known seasonal high density of leatherback, loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley turtles overlapping with high densities of vertical lines associated with fixed gear fisheries. To identify the potential for entanglement of sea turtles within Cape Cod nearshore waters and to gain the fishermen’s perspective on this issue, we will: conduct flights during the peak month of August to investigate leatherback presence; deploy temporary data loggers via suction cup on 10 leatherbacks to track location and dive behavior and provide video footage; and opportunistically film turtles with an ROV. We also plan to set up camera traps on at least 20 vertical lines within the region to document the occurrence, on a per line basis, of animals that could potentially become entangled and the orientation of the vertical line associated with tide and current. To improve bycatch estimates and gain industry knowledge regarding potential engineering solutions, we plan to conduct anonymous surveys of pot fishermen through questionnaires administered by the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.

ESA# 18526

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