Olivia Pitt

Olivia Pitt with turtles

Honours project title: Skeletochronological Analysis of East Coast Australia Sea Turtles: What can be deduced about their life histories?

Principal supervisor: Danny Bucher.

Research summary

Sea turtles play a role in maintaining a healthy ocean. Understanding all parameters of sea turtle life is a possible way to inform effective management strategies. Typically, three species of sea turtle are found along the mid north to south east Australian coast (Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)), with occasional occurrence of leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and vagrant Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) turtles. Anthropogenic activities have lead to increased mortality of sea turtles. Turtles frequently come ashore dead or near-dead from boat strikes, disease, blocked intestines from plastic ingestion, or entanglement in fishing gear. Live turtles are taken into care by volunteer groups and public aquaria, but many die in care or must be euthanized. The mortality creates an opportunity to access deceased specimens and conduct research without further impact on individuals or their populations. 

There is little understanding into the effects climate change is having on sea turtles. However, there is growing evidence that climate may play a role into how fast a sea turtle grows as temperature has a direct affect on growth from embryo. The aim of my study, is to discover if temperature and habitat shifts have a direct effect on sea turtle growth. 

This will be one part of an overall study correlating age, growth and habitat changes using skeletochronological analysis applying up to date technology using Laser Ablation - Induction Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICPMS) at SCU Geoscience Lab.

Awards:   Rowe Scientific Chemistry Honours Scholarship 2018