Lake Worth Lagoon is a 20 mile long body of water located just west of the Atlantic ocean along the coast of Palm Beach County, Florida. The lagoon was historically a freshwater lake, but has been severely altered by human activities since the late 1800’s. Today, LWL is a moderately polluted estuarine waterway that receives ocean water from two man made inlets.
Concern about the lagoon’s health prompted Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management (PBCDERM) to implement a habitat restoration and enhancement plan in the mid 1990’s. One of the goals of this plan is “to attain and maintain the biological integrity of the ecosystem which supports the diversity of fisheries and wildlife, including endangered and threatened species”. This directive specifically includes “research that should be conducted to understand the extent of utilization of the Lake Worth Lagoon habitat by sea turtles”.
To implement this directive PBCDERM asked Inwater Research Group to conduct preliminary surveys of marine turtles in Lake Worth Lagoon. This initial assessment used a two pronged approach to evaluate abundance and species composition of sea turtles in Lake Worth Lagoon. First, visual transects (developed in our Key West project) were used to identify areas where turtles aggregate and second, netting operations were conducted in areas identified by the transects as sea turtle “hotspots”.
Sampling in Lake Worth Lagoon began in March 2005 and is conducted on a quarterly basis annually. This research project is the first in-water assessment of marine turtles ever conducted in Lake Worth Lagoon. Partial funding for this project was secured through the Sea Turtle Grants Program.
The primary objectives of this study are to:
1. Obtain baseline data on species abundance, size frequencies and sex ratios.
2. Determine Catch per Unit Effort (CPUE) at specific sites to determine relative abundance of sea turtles that will allow for comparisons over time within Lake Worth Lagoon.
3. Document the prevalence of fibropapillomatosis (FP), a potentially deadly disease that occurs at high rates among sea turtles in Indian River Lagoon and Florida Bay.
4. Obtain blood samples for genetic, sex ratio and disease analysis.
5. Determine spatial distribution of sea turtles within Lake Worth Lagoon.