UCF has landed a grant worth almost $500,000 from a special fund set up by federal agencies after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine Gulf Research Program awarded biology assistant professor Kate Mansfield and her team a $494,000 grant to study how environmental factors impact sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.

The team, which includes Dr. Nathan F. Putman from the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami, and UCF’s Erin Seney, is one of nine groups that received funding totaling more than $4 million. The winning projects were selected after an external peer-review process.

“This project is a team effort—by pulling together our respective skill sets and datasets, we will be taking a whole-life history approach to understanding turtle movements, distribution and behavior in the Gulf of Mexico” said Mansfield.

Mansfield leads UCF’s Marine Turtle Research Group and has received national recognition for her work on sea turtle conservation, biology and ecology. She’s been studying sea turtles for the past 22 years and has conducted ground-breaking research on the sea turtle “lost years” — the period from when sea turtles hatch on local beaches and head out to sea and when they return years later to near-shore habitats as larger juveniles. She’s also pioneered specialized satellite-tracking methods to learn more about the turtles during their early life stages. Her field research is conducted in critically important sea turtle waterways, which include the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean coast of Florida and off the western Atlantic coast of Central America.

Mansfield joined UCF in 2013 and is creating a scientific program that includes a whole-life history approach from eggs to maturity to understand sea turtle ecology and conservation.

The two-year data synthesis grant supports activities that integrate existing data from different sources that, analyzed together for the first time, may provide additional insights to sea turtle movements and behavior in the Gulf of Mexico. The research supported by these grants could increase understanding of the Gulf of Mexico region as a dynamic system and lead to better-informed decision making.

The Gulf Research Program was established by agreements arising from the settlement of the U.S. government’s criminal complaints following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling explosion. The program seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas, and foster application of these insights to benefit Gulf communities, ecosystems, and the nation. The program funds studies, projects and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.

“These projects will add value to earlier investments in monitoring while improving our understanding of Gulf of Mexico ecosystems and communities,” said Evonne Tang, a senior program officer at the Gulf Research Program at the National Academies.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.