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Walter and Lalita Janke Innovations in Sustainability Science Research Fund

Evaluating the relationship between beach morphodynamics and critical sea turtle nesting habitat in South Florida: Determining the potential implications of storm activity and sea level rise

Tiffany Briggs

  • PI: Tiffany Roberts Briggs, Ph.D.
  • Department: Geosciences
  • Award: $5,000 

Project Summary: Threatened and endangered sea turtle populations are currently under direct and indirect threat due to habitat destruction, as nesting areas are squeezed between coastal development and eroding shorelines, a condition exacerbated by sea level rise (SLR) and storm impacts. Exposure and drowning of eggs on eroded beaches is thought to be an important source of egg mortality, with inundated nests having a significantly lower hatch success than non-inundated eggs. This study proposes to research critical knowledge gaps associated with the risks of SLR on the terrestrial phase of the sea turtle life cycle (i.e., nest inundation), variations in beach morphodynamics (including changes due to storms) and the influence on critical turtle nesting habitat in South Florida, and the correlation between SLR impacts on beach morphology changes with the ecological risk to sea turtle nests. To address these questions, we will utilize a cross-disciplinary approach combining nesting biology studies with coastal geomorphology. This project will be the first comprehensive study of its kind to be conducted on the Boca Raton beaches evaluating the impacts of morphologic change on potential inundation of sea turtle nests and the specific morphologic trends associated with increased (or decreased) susceptibility of nests to storms and SLR. Environmental characterization of the nesting beaches will be completed through beach profile surveys and sediment analyses. Nest inundation will be evaluated through flood monitoring and embryo analyses. Finally, citywide data on sea turtle nest distribution and hatch success/failures will be coupled with the field data collected in this study to determine how beach morphodynamics correlates to the ecological risks of critical turtle nesting habitat in South Florida. This project is expected to be completed within one-year, resulting in one or more publications and external funding proposals, as well as provide data for a master’s thesis and part of a dissertation.

For more information about this project, please contact Dr. Briggs at briggst@fau.edu.

 Last Modified 11/10/16