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The Keratin Connection: A Breakthrough in Sea Turtle Research

May 16, 2013

Experts with very different backgrounds join forces to protect endangered sea turtles.

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Image of woman on boat holding sea turtle. View slideshow Along with Dr. Kate Mansfield, this sea turtle is about to make history. It is one of the first baby sea turtles to be outfitted with a satellite tag. Dr. Mansfield and her colleagues recently developed the first successful method for attaching satellite tags to baby sea turtles. This will allow scientists to map the turtles’ migration routes and to develop more effective conservation strategies. Credit: Jim Abernethy (used with permission) sea_turtle2.jpg sea_turtle3.jpg sea_turtle4.jpg sea_turtle5.jpg

Kate Mansfield is a marine biologist with NOAA Fisheries, and she studies endangered sea turtles. Exactly where baby sea turtles go after hatching is a mystery, and Dr. Mansfield has been trying to solve it. Scientists use satellite tags to track adult sea turtles as they migrate across the ocean, but try as they might scientists have been unable to attach satellite tags to very young sea turtles. They start off so small, and grow so quickly, that anything scientists attached to their shells would fall off as the shell expanded.

That is, until Dr. Mansfield came up with a solution. She didn’t do this alone, of course. She had two important collaborators in this project. One, Dr. Jeanette Wyneken, is a research biologist at Florida Atlantic University. And the other, Marisol Marrero, is a nail salon technician at Not Just Nails in Boynton Beach, Florida.

Sea turtle shells are made out of keratin. That's the same stuff that our fingernails are made of. And so, Dr. Mansfield and her collaborators—each an expert in their respective fields—put their heads together and made the Keratin Connection.

To learn more about satellite tag attachment methods for tracking sea turtles, see the journal article from the Marine Ecology Progress Series.

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