Dr. Kate Mansfield
Assistant Professor, Marine Turtle Research Group
Department of Biology

March 2016

Q: What does Sustainability mean to you?
A. I have a very organismal perspective when it comes to sustainability. In marine fisheries, sustainability is usually related to population dynamics of fish stocks, immediate vs. long-term human use/consumption of these stocks, and to what degree can humans take from a stock before the stock can no longer be maintained at a level to support human use. This means understanding the basic biology and ecology of an organism. For example: how long does it live? At what age will it reach maturity (and therefore contribute to its population size)? How long is it reproductively active? How many offspring does it produce? How many individuals are out there? Do they migrate or remain in one place? On the flip side, sustainability also means understanding how these stocks are used and the various stakeholders interested in the stocks.

This gets trickier when working with species that are endangered or threatened. These animals, at least within U.S. territories, are legally protected. So, direct harvest and consumption is prohibited as is their sale, export, and import. Sea turtles have a long history of human use and consumption; however, they have been protected for the better part of my lifetime within the United States. So, culturally, we no longer see sea turtles as a source of food (meat, eggs) or as a source for ornamentation (jewelry from their shells). If anything, their presence nesting on our beaches or swimming and foraging in our waters have become things to experience, protect, enjoy, and educate.

Sea turtles are very late-maturing, long-lived, and highly migratory animals. Their basic life histories make sea turtle conservation difficult—they spend years in geographically very different regions. They don’t recognize human-imposed national boundaries and must survive 2-3 decades before they are able to reproduce and contribute to their population numbers. So, population recovery to any sustainable level will take a very long time. Even though we don’t have direct harvest of sea turtles in the U.S., may of our activities such as shoreline development, fishing, dredging, etc. do have an impact on sea turtle survival. There are still many gaps in our knowledge of their basic ecology and biology. These data gaps are what my lab attempts to address and fill.

Q: Describe the class you teach.
A: I teach two undergraduate classes, Principles of Ecology (a requirement for Biology majors) and Animal Behavior, and one graduate course, Marine Conservation Biology.

Principles of Ecology (PCB 3044, fall semesters of odd years): This 3 credit hour course examines the structure and function of ecological systems, including populations, communities, and ecosystems. Course Goals are for students to: (1) understand the basic principles of ecology as a cornerstone of a broad background in biology; (2) learn some of the basic ecological terminology; (3) appreciate and apply the theoretical concepts of ecology and the experimental evidence supporting them; (4) become familiar with the scientific method as applied to ecological studies; (5) gain an appreciation of ecology as a science and its role in understanding the man-nature interaction.
Animal Behavior (ZOO 4513, spring semesters): This course is designed to introduce students to the broad field of animal behavior, and to provide them with an understanding of behavior from an evolutionary perspective. Classes include a combination of lectures and group discussions that will be based on textbook readings (see required text below), as well as scientific papers and readings from the popular press/scientific media. The goal of this course is to expose students to a variety of approaches used to understand animal behavior and to broaden their perspective on the animal (and human) world around us.

Marine Conservation Biology (BSC 5316, fall semesters of even years): This course introduces students to the broad field of Marine Conservation Biology. The goal of this course is to expose students to the science and approaches used within the field of Marine Conservation Biology, and to broaden their perspective on the conservation and complex scientific issues associated with our marine habitats. Another goal of this class is to help students develop a critical approach to understanding the science associated with Marine Conservation Biology, and how the science must tie in with the more social and management side of conservation. This class directly addresses key issues associated with the sustainability of our marine resources.

Q: What do you do at UCF to advance sustainability initiatives?
A. Due to the fact that my research program focuses on the biology, ecology, and conservation of sea turtles, animals whose populations are considered threatened and endangered, my science has a direct conservation and management application. My lab and field sites include the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group’s long-term nesting beach and coastal juvenile sea turtle research programs within Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge (one of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the Western Hemisphere) and the Indian River Lagoon located in central Florida. Combining these programs with my oceanic juvenile (“lost years”) tracking work in the Gulf of Mexico, and North and South Atlantic, my lab provides a whole life history approach to understanding the biology, ecology, and conservation needs of Atlantic sea turtles—from eggs to "adulthood." Much of my oceanic work is also a direct result of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Data we generate help to fill critical data gaps in our knowledge of sea turtle ecology and biology—data critical to understanding and conserving sea turtle stocks for the long-term and to help improve our responses to catastrophic events such as oil spills in the future. Our work is used by state, federal, and international managers and conservation groups all working on ensuring the long-term sustainability of sea turtles.

Q: How can students get involved in your work?
A. We have a summer internship program that is open to UCF juniors and seniors. This is an amazing opportunity for undergraduates to participate in hands-on field work. Interns work with my graduate students and staff on the beaches we monitor and help conduct daytime and nighttime surveys for sea turtle nesting activity. They also participate in our in-water netting programs in the Indian River Lagoon. We advertise for these internships every spring semester. For more information on our program and internship, check our various social media sites:

Lab website: http://biology.cos.ucf.edu/marineturtleresearchgroup/
Instagram and Twitter: @UCFTurtleLab
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ucfmtrg

Q: What is your vision for sustainability?
A. Sea turtles are fantastic ambassadors to science and conservation. Considering my research focus (sea turtles) and my organismal-based approach to sustainability, my vision includes continuing to fill critical data gaps and educating the public and UCF students through outreach and hands-on experiences working with sea turtles.