In this week’s episode of the UCF podcast, Knights Do That, we speak with Davis-Schein Endowed Professor in Conservation Biology Kate Mansfield. She is a marine scientist who is the lab director for the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group and graduate coordinator for UCF’s Department of Biology in the College of Sciences.
In this episode, we learn how Mansfield got into this field, some of the coolest things that she’s discovered over the years and what hands-on experiences for her students look like.
Produced by UCF, the podcast highlights students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni who do incredible things on campus, in the community and around the globe.
Kate Mansfield: I mean, you can smell dinosaur breath up close and trying to flip or tag a turtle and she takes a big breath and breathes out on you. So it’s something that is always very fun for me because I really enjoy having students come out there and just have their perspective on things shift just a little bit.
Alex Cumming: On today’s episode, we have a really cool guest. So I think that you’ll be interested in hearing from, especially if you love sea turtles. Dr. Kate Mansfield is a Davis Schein Endowed Professor in Conservation Biology and graduate program coordinator of the UCF Turtle Lab in the College of Sciences. As a marine scientist and sea turtle biologist, she studies the movements and behaviors of sea turtles using satellite telemetry and monitors long-term nesting beaches, and coastal juvenile research programs.
In this episode, we’ll learn how Kate got into this field, some of the coolest things that she’s discovered over the years and what hands-on experiences for her students look like. Now let’s dive right in.
Kate Mansfield: I’m waking up from a lot of work each night this week out at the beach.
I can imagine it can be fairly taxing to spend a lot of time out near the water, outside in the sun.
It can, especially at 2 a.m., but we do have a bit of a drive between here and our field station. It’s about 70 miles, but once out there it’s pretty glorious. It’s a really beautiful area.
Alex Cumming: I believe it. The coasts here in Florida are just marvelous.
Kate Mansfield: They are, and Central Florida is pretty special, especially when thinking about sea turtles.
Alex Cumming: So Kate, how long have you been studying the movements and behaviors of sea turtles using satellite tracking?
Kate Mansfield: It’s going to date me, but I have been working with sea turtles since 1994, a couple of years out from college. So I’ve been working with them for the better part of over 25 years.
Alex Cumming: That’s fantastic. What drew you to sea turtle research in the first place?
Kate Mansfield: I think it was the field-based aspect of working with the turtles. I had my very first sea turtle internship in Southwest Florida on Keywaydin Island. It was beautiful out there. We had to access it by boat. We had ATVs that we drove up and down the beach, all-terrain vehicles, and we were just thrown out there with it.
So somebody who had just graduated from college, working with sea turtles on this beautiful remote island and given a lot of responsibility. It was really fun, but also getting to know the phases of the moon and the tides and getting to know these weird beasts that would come up on the beach every night to lay their eggs, it was pretty spectacular. So part of it was just having some really good early experiences and being outside, being on the water or on the beaches at all hours, and just getting in tune with the natural cycle of things.
Alex Cumming: That must’ve been a big learning curve going from the classroom to actually out in the field and saying, “Okay, I know when this is going on, but I have to pay attention to this. I have to be aware of what other creatures are in the area while I’m trying to do my research here with the turtles.”
Kate Mansfield: It is a different approach, I guess. I had been working on some boats and had been sailing. I took courses and semesters away that were very field-based, hands-on and I always have preferred that hands-on kind of real experience, which is something that I try to translate into what I do here at UCF with our internship program.
And it’s trying to provide that first real experience, similar to what I had back in the 1990s, and giving our students that opportunity, which is fairly rare. Especially at that stage in their career, to experience wildlife endangered and threatened animals on the nesting beaches, in their natural habitats, in the waters around Florida.
And it’s something that stuck with me and I’m hopeful that we’ll engage in and really hook some of these students at an early point in their career. So maybe they’ll stick with it.
Alex Cumming: Is there something that you see in your students, when they have this moment where they’re out in the field and you can say, “This is the feeling that I had all these years ago, and I can see the sparkle in their eye, the glimmer that they’re feeling the same way that I did all those years ago.”
Kate Mansfield: In a way, yeah. I think that they may not realize it when they’re out there. But it’s really fun to see them have their first experiences with the turtles. We also try to sneak pictures of them when the hatchlings start to emerge, and that’s really fun too. We’ll post that on social media and their expressions when they see the little hatchlings.
But I think more than anything, it’s more observing them over the course of the season. They don’t realize it but initially they will start by asking lots of questions, being a little bit more hesitant, turtle comes up, they’re waiting for direction. But by the end of the summer, they will have encountered so many sea turtles on the nesting beach that all they want to do is work up the turtle, get the measurements, get all the data from the animal and the nest site, and then get back so they can rehydrate and go to bed. And it’s neat though because over the course of the summer, they gained so much confidence. So by the end of the summer, they’re like a NASCAR pit crew where they dive in and they’re taking the measurements from the turtles and they’re just powering it out. And for me, it’s really gratifying to see because we’ve done our job.
They’ve gotten to that point where they’re just doing it and it’s neat to see them build that confidence, which is something that translates in a lot of different ways, I think.
Alex Cumming: I’m an actor so when I watch a movie, I’m always studying it in a sense. In the same way when you go to the beach or when these students go to the beach, do they come back and they’re like, “I was there with my family just for fun, and you know we saw XYZ, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.”
Kate Mansfield: In some ways, yes. I think it’s kind of neat because we do encourage the students to have cameras with them. We have cameras that we provide to them to pick up on those weird things that they see at the beach or carry their cell phones in the morning because you might see a daytime nester or there may be a rare Kemp’s Ridley that comes up on the beach that you’re opportunistically trying to get. Yes, in some ways I think the students do start to see things a little bit differently.
And I know that when I was working nesting beaches on a regular basis, you get really keyed in on looking for changes in the sand and you look for the tracks of the turtles and you get to learn what the different tracks look like and the differences between the species. And then you learn the nuances of whether a turtle has laid a nest or not based on what the sand looks like. So they become trackers. And I know that afterwards I would be somewhere like driving past a construction site and I’d see a pile of sand. And I do a double-take because I would think it would be a turtle nest because you get that search image in your brain and you start to see the world a little bit differently. If you’re up in the middle of the night for hours upon hours, every single night you get this image for what you’re looking for. And then you see it everywhere. Even though sea turtles may not be nesting in a construction site. Hopefully they wouldn’t be.
Alex Cumming: Hopefully not. Wow, that’d be something wouldn’t it? I bet you see a lot of beautiful sunrises out on the beach.
Kate Mansfield: Yes. One of my old graduate students, Ryan Chabot, he would use the hashtag sweet sunrise pic. So that’s become a lab joke, but you may see that on our social media.
Alex Cumming: That’s so cool. There’s nothing like a beach at sunrise on a beautiful morning.
Kate Mansfield: And a beautiful sunrise with maybe hatchlings emerging, crawling down to the beach or a daytime nester, a female that’s still up on the beach when the sun’s coming up. It’s pretty glorious.
Alex Cumming: So what initially drew you to UCF and the Marine Turtle Research Group we have here?
Kate Mansfield: Prior to my job here, I had been working a variety of kind of soft funded, meaning that I was writing the grants to support my salary, positions through the consortium of universities down in Southeast Florida that were associated with the National Marine Fishery Service.
So I was working through the University of Miami and then later through Florida International University. But my office was mostly at the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Southeast Fisheries Science Center. And I had been there during the oil spill and I had a grant that was winding down and I was looking for either applying for federal positions to stay there in the NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service Program, and this job opened up. And it was one of those rare jobs where it comes across the listservs maybe once in a career. And I happen to have the skillsets in terms of the field-based work that this project does. I had the experience, so I could actually be somebody who could get the permits to do the work.
So they needed to hire somebody who had those skill sets that would justify continuing some of the work here and I waited until the last day and probably the last couple hours before the job closed to apply. And it worked out, I feel like I’ve won the job lottery. So it’s, it was something where I couldn’t not apply.
And I wasn’t really thinking I was going to go into academia. I was sticking around in the federal system, but I think it worked out pretty well.
Alex Cumming: That’s fantastic to hear that it’s all worked out so well. Could you take us through a typical day during sea turtle nesting season? What does it look like for you?
Kate Mansfield: For me, it’s a little bit different than for my graduate students and the interns out at the coast. I do a lot of different things. So sometimes I’m out at the beach. Sometimes I’m in front of my computer, more often than not, dealing with papers or edits or grants or writing grants.
But for the folks that we have working on the project, in any given summer — not really during COVID years — but in general, we would have upwards of about four to six graduate students. And then we would have about 10 to 12 new undergraduate interns from UCF. And in addition, we have returning interns who then work with us.
So they usually spend three months with us getting trained, which we have to do as part of our permits because we work with protected species. But after that we often hire a good number of the people that have been through our internship. And so in any given summer, we can have upwards of 20 to 28 people that cycle through a schedule every week out at the beach.
And usually what we do is we’ll have folks work with us for about three days, two nights or three nights. And it really depends upon kind of what their role is and what they’re working on and what beaches they cover. But we do monitor about 47 kilometers of beach from just south of Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center from Patrick Air Force Base all the way down to Sebastian Inlet, just north of Sebastian Inlet by about half a kilometer or so.
In the mornings, we have a crew that goes out and takes our ATVs and hits different points along that 47 kilometers of beach. And we’ll drive the entire section of beach. So we have them broken up into different access points and some ATVs we’ll do about 10 miles, some do a little bit more, or some do certain sections of beach.
But we will monitor during the day, do one drive early in the morning when the sun is rising to count how many turtles had crawled up on the beach the night before. That’s where we look for the crawls and to see whether they nested or not. That usually starts around just before dawn. So it’s real early in the morning.
And especially this time of year. And we also have nighttime work, so the students will sleep during the day after they do the dawn patrols and they will wake up, have their, either breakfast or dinner, whichever you want to call it around 6 or 7 p.m. and then they will be gearing up to go out on the night in the lower 20 kilometers that we monitor, which is part of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. And that’s the northern section of the refuge in Brevard County that we monitor and the students will go out and they’ll target different areas from about 9:30, 10 p.m. until about 2 a.m.
And what we try to do is encounter the female turtles as they’re coming to shore to nest. And we try to sub-sample the turtles as they’re nesting. We’ll put flipper tags on them. We’ll take measurements and we’ll get blood samples and tissue samples for a variety of different projects. And we also mark the nest.
In that 20 kilometer stretch of beach for the Carr Refuge that we monitor, we see about 12,000 to 17,000 loggerhead nests in any given year. So this is like 20 kilometers, 13 miles, it’s a lot of turtle nests. Depending upon the year, we may see 10,000 to 15,000 green turtle nests. So we can’t encounter every single turtle, it would take most of like the UCF population, I think, to pull that off. But what we do is we’ll sub-samples and we might have a handful of turtles each night that we need to tag and mark their nests in different parts of the refuge. The students are all out there, including the undergrads and the grad students and our staff. Doing this and then they go to sleep for a couple hours, wake up at dawn and the day starts all over again.
Alex Cumming: Rinse, lather, repeat. Do students know what they’re getting into or did they ever look at their sheet and they’re like, “Oh 6 a.m.”
Kate Mansfield: We try to be very upfront about it. It’s not for everybody. And that’s for sure. We do have a fairly intensive selection process for becoming a sea turtle intern. And my graduate students run the show because they have to live and work with everybody at the coast. So they need to be happy. And I’m happy with them choosing the interns. What we do try to do, they will interview the students and tell them all about the project. Full disclosure, it’s not glamorous at times. It’s exhausting and not everybody is into field work, so that’s fine. But we also try to get perspective interns out in the field with us because it can still sound great and glamorous, but then when you actually are out there, you’re either going to love it or it may not be for you. We’ve had some folks that just after being out on the boats with us, cause we also do some coastal work and we catch turtles and that’s usually when we are interviewing for some of the internships. So we’ll bring the students out to go in the field, on the water with us mainly because it’s not the nesting season when we’re selecting the student. And then after that they have to submit an application. And so we kind of weed folks out based on the reality of it. So we have students who we try to give them a new experience. So people that may have 10 years of sea turtle nesting experience, that would be great. We might hire them, but we may not have them as part of our internship.
We want to give these experiences to people who wouldn’t otherwise even think to have this experience or have access. And it’s really fun cause they really don’t know what they’re getting into. And it’s really neat to see that progression of asking lots of questions, being really hesitant than becoming that NASCAR pit crew that dives in and does it all.
Alex Cumming: I believe that it would come down to a lot of, hustle, grit, work ethic.
Kate Mansfield: It is. We have a field site where we have up to 12 beds. So in any given night, we might have people cycling through. This is also non-COVID years, so in the last couple of years we’ve had a much smaller group of people out there, and we’ve had some emergency funds to rent some additional places. But yes, they have to be able to live and work and communicate with each other.
And recognize that some people are not morning or evening people, but might need that hour just to stare at a wall and eat their Pop Tarts or something like that. But I think in general, we’ve had some really great crews, and everybody has been a pleasure to work with. And they’ve worked really well together, and everyone becomes really close knit by the end of the summer.
Alex Cumming: What makes these turtles so interesting to study?
Kate Mansfield: It’s hard to say. In a lot of ways when you’re dealing with an animal that needs to be conserved in some way or protected, the ideal is that you understand what they’re doing and where they are throughout their entire lives in order for you to be able to develop those conservation policies that can either target different life stages or best target where they’re most vulnerable or when they’re most vulnerable. But with sea turtles, the problem is that they are very long-lived animals. They live at least as long as humans. They are highly migratory, and they have different stages of their lives they spend in very different areas and places. So they are found globally. But you can have turtles that are hatching out from our nesting beaches in Florida, on the east coast of Florida, but they may spend time over in the Eastern Atlantic all the way over by the Mediterranean, or they may spend time up north in the Chesapeake Bay on a seasonal basis, or they may be in the Gulf of Mexico.
So we as scientists, we’re trying to figure out what they’re doing and where they’re going and when they’re there and how they interact with their environment and how they interact with human activities. But the problem is that because they’re so highly distributed, especially during their earliest youngest life stages when they’re in the open ocean, they’re hard to study. And so there’s a lot that we don’t know. So it’s kind of weird that in 2021, we have these animals that have been around for a hundred million years, but we still know so very little about them. So that’s for me is what’s fun in that they are really cool animals in that they use the Earth’s magnetic field to migrate and to navigate, but we still know so very little about them, especially at key points during their lives.
So as a scientist, it’s fun because there’s a lot that we can publish on and a lot that we can start looking at.
Alex Cumming: There’s so much potential for studying and learning from them.
Kate Mansfield: Yes.
Alex Cumming: How do the sea turtles affect our lives on land?
Kate Mansfield: They are interesting animals in that they interact both with land and sea habitat. There aren’t that many marine vertebrates that do that. And they will nest on our nesting beaches. And throughout Florida, it’s cool because those animals are very well known. People tend to really like and connect with sea turtles. They’re nonpartisan in a way. So you have lots of different people from different perspectives and different political backgrounds, but they all love and connect with sea turtles.
So on one hand, I think that they’re incredible science ambassadors. They’re also ambassadors for Florida in a lot of ways. They use our beaches and in other ways they are also very good indicators of our ecosystems and the health of the planet in some ways. Because if they can’t nest and their populations start to come down because of beachfront development or erosion on the beach or habitat loss, then it’s a reflection on us and our behavior and maybe we need to change a little bit.
So yeah, I think sea turtles are fun to work with just in that a lot of people like them so it makes my job a little bit easier.
Alex Cumming: You do a lot of hands-on work in the field and you provide so many opportunities for your students, like we just spoke about there. How does that kind of work keep you inspired in this field when you’re seeing the young students?
Kate Mansfield: Oh, it’s always fun. Yeah. I really enjoy introducing students to field work. I really enjoy introducing them to handling and interacting with these beasts. They’re so cool.
These living dinosaurs, I mean, you can smell dinosaur breath up close and trying to flipper tag a turtle and she takes a big breath and breathes out on you. So it’s something that is always very fun for me because I really enjoy having students come out there and just have their perspective on things shift just a little bit, or realize that fieldwork is a potential career path or get into something where we do get some students who are pre-med and by the end of a summer with us, they end up completely shifting to ecology.
Alex Cumming: That’s awesome. You spend a lot of times out in the field, monitoring the turtles over time. How essential do you think that persistence and patience is to getting a good scientific discovery?
Kate Mansfield: As I mentioned, sea turtles are incredibly long-lived animals and one generation time for a sea turtle, the turtles don’t reach maturity where they can then reproduce and put back into the population for upwards of 20 to 30 years.
So that’s like a career span. And my predecessor, Dr. Lou Earhart, he started and founded the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, retired and now I’m taking over the lab in 2013 and I’ll retire in a couple decades maybe. And it’s really interesting because one turtle generation time really corresponds to one career generation and it really drives home the need for this long-term dataset because you can have something happening on a nesting beach — say a series of hurricanes that will wipe out year after year for maybe five years a bunch of turtle nests. So those turtles would never reach maturity because those nests never hatched, which then means 25 to 30 years later, we might see a dip in the nest numbers on a nesting beach.
So there’s this lag time. And if you’re only looking at 5, 10 years worth of data, we’re not getting the whole picture. These long lived late maturing animals, you need decades upon decades, if not centuries of data on them to be able to best protect and conserve them. Right now green turtles are having a comeback where back when my predecessor was first monitoring, they had zero green turtle nests on the beach and maybe 40 would be a big year.
Now we’re having 15, 16,000. So over the course of 30 years, from the 1980s and ’90s to present, we’ve had this trajectory of more and more nest numbers, but if you had only looked at it in the 1980s, you wouldn’t have had very much perspective. And now we’re seeing this huge increase, but it can still go down. So we need to keep monitoring. It’s slow science.
Alex Cumming: I mean, who knows what’s going on right now that 30 years from now people will say, “Oh my gosh, in 2021, it was right there.”
Kate Mansfield: Right?
Alex Cumming: It’s so cool to think about over time, there’s always going to be new research and new stuff coming out that it’s not just one and done.
Kate Mansfield: We can hope, at least in terms of hopefully UCF will continue to support the turtle project. When I retire, they’ll hire somebody new and carry it forward into the next half of the century maybe.
Alex Cumming: I sure hope so. In your research, what are some lessons that you’ve learned from when things didn’t go the way that you expected they would?
Kate Mansfield: One of the biggest things that we try to teach our interns and graduate students is always have a plan B, C, D, E, F. We do field work. So field work is dependent upon weather, it’s dependent upon sea state. It’s dependent upon boats that function. It’s dependent on the animals among other things. So we’re always prepared for as much as might come at us within our experience. I mean, we always carry first aid kits in case somebody gets injured. It happens. We always have either cell phones or radios with us in case a boat breaks down. But I would say fieldwork in general teaches you to be very resilient and also resourceful too.
I’ve fixed boats with an earring. And so it’s — you just do what you have to do.
Alex Cumming: Sailing experience when you’re on a boat, you probably know your way around a ship pretty well.
Kate Mansfield: Yeah, I’ve been working on boats since a teenager, so I used to sail and teach sailing for quite a while and then worked on boats and delivered boats for a while.
But yeah, right now we’re just working on power boats and we do some offshore work with charter boats in the Gulf of Mexico. So it’s fun. I really enjoy it.
Alex Cumming: Is one of the other preconditions, if you get seasick, be forewarned. I don’t do great on boats, so…
Kate Mansfield: It’s the tragedy of a marine biologist that gets seasick. I get horribly seasick. I get motion sick. For my dissertation I had to do aerial surveys in the Chesapeake Bay in a four-seater assessment and also track turtles on a boat in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. And I would get horribly seasick. I acknowledged the makers of meclizine in my dissertation, which is the active ingredient in Dramamine, among other things, that you can also get a prescription for it.
I need some things that are a little stronger now, but I do what I need to do. And I can function or I just lay down horizontally and I’m a professional puker. I probably shouldn’t say that, but yeah, I’ve had plenty of experience getting seasick and motion sick.
Alex Cumming: Do you see it in the student? You look at the kid, their face goes pale after half an hour and you’re like, “Oh boy, here we go.”
Kate Mansfield: I respect those students who have the iron stomach. I have one Ph.D. student, Katrina Phillips, who is phenomenal. She’s going to be graduating in the next year. I’m going to miss her. I might have to fly her back to go offshore with us because she just gets everything done. And I have other staff and students who it’s just hit or miss.
So it happens. I am a 100% sympathetic to it and it’s, again, not for everybody. So some people may come out and realize, okay, offshore works not for me. But for the most part, I’ll give them the opportunity. And if they’re like me and they just stick with it, I have ultimate respect.
Alex Cumming: Some students has got to stay on land. Like I’m a beach dweller here.
Kate Mansfield: Yeah. Some people are lab people too. So it’s fine.
Alex Cumming: There’s spots for everybody. In the recent year, states have made a big push to ban plastic straws in large part in effort to help save turtles. What are some other conservation efforts that we can use in our daily practice to help save the turtles?
Kate Mansfield: For folks in Florida, I think reducing single use plastic is obviously one of the big ones and the straws were a really interesting kind of social media sensation. One video went viral and hit around the world and changed behavior, which is pretty phenomenal. But it’s also one piece of the puzzle and there are a lot of other threats to the turtles. Things like beachfront development, seawalls, erosion caused by seawalls. So we have a problem in Florida because we are in the kind of main area of hurricanes. And so the reality, whether it happens this year or next year or five years from now, we have hurricanes hitting our beaches and the knee-jerk response to having damage on the beach would be to build a seawall and often those approaches may not be the best for the long-term. I think we really need to focus on resilience and trying to plan for the future with multiple approaches that allow for the beaches to be more of a buffer zone and our shorelines to be more of a buffer zone. So trying to be a little bit more thoughtful about development on the beach and maybe more setbacks, more mangroves and restoring some of the living shorelines to help protect the beaches, reducing plastics, being more cognizant when you’re out fishing with recreational fishing gear to not leave your lines in the water, or clean up after yourself, essentially. And other things too, like in the Indian River Lagoon being aware of what you’re putting into your lawns that may leach into the lagoon that may cause harmful algal blooms that may alter the habitats that turtles and other species need to survive and thrive. So there are a lot of different things that we do, especially in coastal regions that have a lot of downstream effects on a sea turtles in many other coastal wildlife.
Alex Cumming: As you said, they reflect on us. How we’re treating them, we can see it back on our own behavior, which is a harsh reality of it. What advice would you give to somebody who wants to work in your field?
Kate Mansfield: So I would just say work on getting experience opportunities.
I look for students who are engaged, they are team players. They don’t necessarily have to be the straight A book student. For graduate students, I look for students who’ve had a little bit of real-life experience. Maybe not going straight from school, but travel a little bit, get that broader perspective, and I think that helps inform kind of conservation and perspective that’s a little bit broader. But at the same time, I’ve had some wonderful students that have come straight from undergrad as well. I would say, work on those experiences. Trying to volunteer, if you can get a foot in the door someplace. There are a lot of internship opportunities. And Student Conservation Association has a clearing house of a lot of different opportunities, both marine and terrestrial, for those students who are interested in exploring different conservation fields. And so it’s hard at UCF, I know because we’re huge and there are very few of us who have labs. And so we try to get as many students as we can handle in any given year. And be persistent, just knock on doors. Don’t be afraid to talk to professors after class. I remember those students and sometimes then I can make that connection and say, “Hey, you need to apply for internship.” Or I tell my grad students, “Hey, look out for the student,” if they’re applying.
So yeah, it’s just be present and really get in our faces.
Alex Cumming: It sounds like the students that are persistent are the ones that rise to the top and the same way that you don’t want a student who is more lackadaisical out in the field with you. You want somebody who’s dedicated, determined and on the ball.
Kate Mansfield: Sure. I mean, we all have our down time and down moments because it is exhausting some of the stuff that we do. I certainly have been scattered in the field, but yes, we look for students who are present that are able to roll with the challenges of being in the field, come up with your plan A, plan B, who get along well with others, and can work with others and extreme conditions.
Alex Cumming: What’s one thing that you’re still hoping to do?
Kate Mansfield: One thing, I would say I would love to get into the Sargasso Sea and see what’s going on with little baby turtles there. We’ve put some satellite tags on some of the very first young sea turtles. What’s called the sea turtle last years, the first few years that they spend in the open ocean and they’ve surprised us and many of them have traveled to the Sargasso Sea, which is in the middle of the Atlantic, over toward the Western Atlantic, around Bermuda. It’s kind of part of the Bermuda Triangle of sorts. And I would love to get in there to see if more turtles are hanging out in that area and hanging out with this brown algae that floats at the sea surface called sargassum, which is what the sea is called after.
Alex Cumming: That’s so cool. In Florida, are there areas that are still needed to have more research on them?
Kate Mansfield: I would say anything with the youngest, sea turtle life stages. Maybe tagging and tracking the little baby hatchlings as they’re leaving the nesting beach. We don’t know how many survive that first push to get offshore. They swim in a little frenzy period for about 24 or 48 hours. And a lot of fish eat them. They’re snacks. Turtles are high in protein. So we assume that many are eaten and the mortality is fairly high, but we don’t have actual numbers. So it’s really important to know how many are getting picked off as they’re making their way off shore. I would love to focus on that a little bit more. We have projects looking at disease, ecology. We have projects looking at different questions about gene expression and collaboration with some other professors on campus. We have questions about the turtle diet at different life stages, how it changes all the questions about the movements and behavior of these animals. Lots and lots of questions. So I can’t really pick one.
Alex Cumming: When you see the popularity of a film, like My Octopus Teacher, and you see the positive response that got, that I’m certain drew people into more marine biology, does that keep you optimistic that there is this drive, that marine life is held in such high regard?
Kate Mansfield: I hope so. Yes. I haven’t seen that yet. It’s on my list. I just haven’t had the time, full disclosure.
Alex Cumming: My turtle teacher?
Kate Mansfield: Right? Yeah.
Alex Cumming: I would love to see that.
Kate Mansfield: Yeah, my turtle grandmother or something like that. Yeah. Those movies, yes I think that they are phenomenal in that they connect people with a habitat or species that are hard to access. And so I think that there’s a lot of value in having those images available or the connection that people can make with wildlife made more broadly available when you can’t just go out and hang out with a turtle without permits or without maybe violating some law or policy. So it’s I think it is very important.
I mean, outreach and education and sharing what we do, trying to share what we do on social media, among other things, I think is very important and hopefully might spark some interest for a student to eventually maybe come to UCF and study turtles or go elsewhere and study some other marine life.
Alex Cumming: That’s fantastic. Kate, thank you so much for joining us. I love getting to hear about turtles, the experience you’ve had with them and how you’ve affected your students in their studies. So thank you again.
Kate Mansfield: Thank you so much for having me. I always like talking about turtles, so thanks.
Alex Cumming: Thanks again for listening. Be sure to stream and download on whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts. I hope you’re enjoying learning how Knights are making a positive impact in our community, our nation and the world. And hey, if you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere you took UCF that we should know about, send us an email at [email protected], and maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future. Go Knights, and Charge On!