Student Spotlight: Lindsey Peavey’s research on sea turtles


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© NOAA NMFS SWFSC, PRD Permit #774 1714

Lindsey Peavey, a PhD candidate advised by Dean Steve Gaines, is Bren’s leading sea turtle expert and one of the few researchers that study Pacific olive ridleys in the open ocean, versus on their nesting beaches.

Lindsey’s research focuses on the pelagic ecology of Pacific olive ridley sea turtles, studying their eating habits and behavior in their open ocean habitat. Her goal is to better inform natural resource management efforts for olive ridleys, such as helping fishermen reduce accidental turtle capture and entanglement —a situation that is bad for both fishermen and turtles.

As expected, Lindsey recalls her field work, the hands-on interaction with the turtles, as one of the most exciting and fun highlights of her research. To obtain the biological samples from the turtles, she performed a hand capture technique known as the turtle rodeo, which involves diving into the ocean, skillfully grabbing a surfacing turtle by its shell, and gently guiding it to the boat, not allowing it to dive to greater depths and escape. Once on board, Lindsey took tissue samples and measurements, attached tracking devices to the turtles’ shells, and then released them back into their habitat. This field work was completed during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research cruise and with appropriate protected species research permits.

© NOAA NMFS SWFSC, PRD Permit #774 1714

Lindsey described the need to study olive ridleys specifically: “In some ways, this population has been overlooked in terms of research efforts. Even though it is one of the most abundant sea turtle populations worldwide, we know little about their ecology and foraging behavior. Unlike most other sea turtle species, olive ridleys are pelagic, meaning they spend the majority of their time far from shore in the open ocean, making them difficult to access and study. Moreover, they are not as critically endangered as other turtles, such as the hawksbill, and so understandably, resources have been prioritized elsewhere.” She warns, “By ignoring them though, there is a missed opportunity to learn why their population is faring better than others. Perhaps that information can help us understand why other populations are not doing as well.”

Lindsey is currently analyzing skin samples, performing stable isotope analyses which involves measuring carbon and nitrogen levels and comparing those to levels of their prey and their environment. This information enables her to estimate the turtles’ role in the open ocean foodweb, and how their role might change across space.

Additionally, Lindsey is working with colleagues at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center to describe the at-sea population structure of eastern Pacific olive ridleys for the first time by analyzing their DNA and linking open ocean foragers to nesting rookeries.

This geospatial insight regarding olive ridley trophic roles and population structure will help to illumniate a more harmonious balance between resource use and sea turtle conservation.

Lindsey’s background is rich in marine biology research. She graduated from the University of Miami (FL) from their marine science program, and then relocated to San Diego to work for a variety of environmental organizations, where she began her professional research in sea turtle conservation and biology. She attended Duke University’s Nicholas School as a Doris Duke Conservation Fellow, graduating there in 2008 with her Master of Environmental Management degree. Lindsey then came to Bren in 2010 to pursue her PhD and further her research with olive ridleys.

If you are interested in reading more about Lindsey’s research, please visit her blog (Turtles in the Deep) and check out her student profile on the Gaines Lab website.

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Photo credit: Robert L. Pitman. © NOAA NMFS SWFSC, PRD Permit #774 1714.

© NOAA NMFS SWFSC, PRD Permit #774 1714

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Photo credit: Robert L. Pitman. © NOAA NMFS SWFSC, PRD Permit #774 1714.

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