Nerds Helping Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Nest Monitoring Device

Life as a sea turtle can be rough. Not only are turtles trying to survive predators, destruction of habitat, fishing nets, and pollution, but only about 1% of hatchlings survive to face those challenges in the first place. Enter [Samuel Wantman] and a new volunteer hacker group called Nerds Without Borders, with their first order of business of creating an egg-shaped monitoring device for sea turtle nests.

Sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act, which goes to great lengths to protect certain species from human activity. The ultimate goal of the project is to help people and sea turtles better coexist under this law by more accurately predicting hatching times. A suite of sensors and a cell network antenna are placed in a plastic “egg” that can be buried in a nest after a sea turtle lays the real eggs. The sensors detect vibrations within the eggs as the embryos grow, which is an indication that the tiny turtles are about to break free of their eggs and head for the open ocean!

Click past the break for more on this project.

The entire project is open source, which includes the hardware, the software, and even the data that the sensors send in. This is especially important for a project like this, because the group expects that people around the world will be able to use their work for sea turtles everywhere and hopefully even expand upon their ideas.

With the device, the group will be able to provide Parks Service employees better information about active sea turtle nests with the ultimate goal of knowing which parts of the beach are safe for humans (and vehicles) to use without disrupting the nests. Nerds Without Borders is off to a great start! There is amazing potential in this project to gather even more data, and even more potential in the idea of a worldwide network of volunteer “nerds” willing to work on projects like this one.

25 thoughts on “Nerds Helping Sea Turtles

      1. There’s no great concern with turtles “seeing” us. It’s more an issue of us directly interacting with or interfering with them. However, this is still important because increasingly, people have been running interference for hatchlings as nests mass-hatch, helping them to make it to the ocean without being picked off by seagulls, which prey on them.

        With, say, 50 out of 50 hatchlings making it to the water instead of 25/50 or something, you’ve already effectively doubled the number of turtles that could potentially survive to adulthood. It can go along way to helping to restore the population being badly harmed by human-created problems (garbage, fishing nets, propeller strikes, global warming, etc).

  1. Well I guess so you won’t drive over the nests. Another use I can see for this is that lots of baby sea turtles are eaten by seagulls right after they hatch on their way to the ocean, so if your signalled that the turtles are about to hatch you could send a couple of people to chase away the seagulls so at least more turtles can get into the sea. (But after that they’re on there own.)

    1. By chasing off the seagulls you will be directly effecting the balance of nature, which is what this project is trying to avoid. 1% survival rate may sound like a small number, but its been the same for hundreds of years. Increase the turtle population, and you decrease the population of another species which they use as a food source.

      1. Those turtles hatch 1 day per year. And while the seagulls may eat enough to last for a week or so, they arn’t reptiles who can go months between meals. And we could always feed the gulls farmed fish instead if we really think a slight decline in the seagull population would be a bad thing.

        Doing that for a decade or so would probably make turtle numbers go up. And if they don’t we may just have to accept this species isnt strong enough to survive.

    1. “Darwin does NOT approve.”

      This + lots

      keep humans, dogs, and all the “artificial” crap away through whatever personal or electronic means you’re willing to risk deploying.

      After that GTFO. You’re not “helping” a species by rescuing it’s weakest, unluckiest, unhealthiest or slowest. You’re just making sure you can keep that species dependent on your or similarly minded people.

      The purpose of assisting species is to help the species, not to salve our doogooder feelings or misplaced maternal desires.

      1. Are you suggesting that Darwin’s ‘natural selection’ would some how no longer be natural if humans interfere? How was it natural selection the first time when we humans destroyed habitats and polluted water, but it’s now not ‘natural’?

        Unless you are conflating ‘natural selection’ with ‘survival of the fittest’ (and applying an objective meaning to ‘fittest’) how can the turtle’s ability to survive our interference more natural at one time and less natural at another?

        Or are you just against trying to save species that we as humans have impacted dramatically? Because if that’s the case, you are using the “natural is something that humans’ don’t interfere with” argument that overzealous hippies use too.

    1. If ‘Darwin’ (atheistic anthropomorphism of the world?) is using Ebola, it’s picked the wrong bug. Nature sure has bad aim if it thinks “Hey, the industrialized world is polluting my oceans, and killing my species, so I’ll kill off the weakest and the most under served medically.”

      It’s such a bad response, I can’t even think of a car or RTS analogy!

    1. The transmitter is comparable to a cell phone, and is 20 feet away from the nest. The sensor in the nest uses micro-amps of power. The entire project is being monitored by a team of biologists. We’ll be doing statistical studies on the first test nests to make sure that the hatching rates are not affected. Do you really think we would design anything that might harm the turtle eggs?

  2. According to a children’s book I read recently: sea turtle babies instinctively crawl towards the sea by looking for light reflecting off the water from the sun / moon. Humans building cities near beaches have ruined this instinct – by putting artificial lights inland, so the turtles go the wrong way.

    If we knew when the turtles hatched, we could shut off the lights that day, and reduce our impact with a literal flip of a switch.

    1. We have this sort of problem solved all along Fort Lauderdale beach in Florida. During the sea turtle hatching ‘season’ the lights along A1A (the main sea-side road) are dimmed, shielded to only point inland, and the nests are marked off with caution tape when spotted. The threat of fines and public lynching keeps the public away. The tape and site markers keep the lifeguards and maintenance workers from running over them. The changes in lighting keep the turtles pointed in the right direction. It’s not perfect, but damn good for minimal human intervention. We also ahev the huge turtle rehab facility here as well…

  3. So let me see if I understand this: in order to let nature take its course with the sea turtles, they are going to put electronics in the turtle nests so that they can play god with the turtles. Right.

    1. What could possibly go wrong??? Just wait ’til one overly smart turtle figures out she/he’s been given a little electronics kit… today some sensors, tomorrow an oddly mutated version of Skynet…

    2. The best way to repair damage done by unthinking use of technology might involve some technology. “Nature taking it’s course” isn’t even the idea here, as at this point that would probably result in the extinction of another species.

      But it’s a nice strawman argument you tried to set up, there.

    3. another person that gets their idea of how evolution works from x men and has no clue how it really works.

      news flash we ARE A PART OF NATURE! anything we do is also part nature taking its course!!!!

  4. Humans think, and some of them quite well. So as part of their nature, they at times attempt to “minimize the impact” their previous follies might have caused to their environment; an obvious natural response for any species.

    Turtle Sense is just good human sense.

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