OSAP: Research Overview

Ocean Science Assistantship Program (OSAP)

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Research Overview

The main objective of this study is to examine the effects of entrainment in the intake structures of the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant (SLNP) on acute physiological stress in loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). This study will be the first to provide information on how vertebrates respond to entrainment in the canal of a power plant.

The SLNP, located on Hutchinson Island, Florida, uses nearshore ocean water as part of the cooling system for its two nuclear reactors. The power plant is located on a critically important loggerhead nesting beach and therefore incidentally entrains mostly reproductively active loggerhead sea turtles during peak nesting season (May- August). In sea turtles, stress has been studied in response to a wide variety of stressors including handling, turning, fibropapillomas, rehabilitation, cold-stunning and ground transportation. However, stress has never been measured in response to entrainment in the intake canal of a power plant. SLNP is one of the two power plants in the United States that use ocean water for its cooling system and the only one that has a monitoring program specific to removing sea turtles from its intake canal. This presents us with a unique opportunity to collect samples from wild loggerhead sea turtles to learn more about their physiology and apply our findings for management and conservation purposes.