Saving Sea Turtles

Pace professors wear quite the array of hats in myriad fields and locales. Thanks to the work of Biology Chairperson Andrew Wier, PhD, we can now add “sea turtle rescuer” to our collective faculty resume.

Wier has been working with former graduate student Maxine Montello ’14 to assist in the rescue and rehabilitation of cold-stunned sea turtles. Montello, currently the rescue program director at the New York Marine Rescue Center (NYMRC) in Riverhead, New York, remained in touch with Wier after graduation and helped spur what’s been a fruitful collaboration. Notably, Wier has ventured out to eastern Long Island to assist in the rescue and rehabilitation of these sea turtles who migrate through the New York area.

“New York State responds to the second-highest number of cold-stunned sea turtles in the greater Atlantic,” said Montello. “The phenomenon is similar to hypothermia. They’re cold-blooded, so they actually can’t regulate their internal temperature.” Since the NYMRC’s inception, they’ve rescued, rehabilitated, tagged, and re-released more than 4,000 marine mammals and sea turtles.

When a cold-snap occurs, and water temperature suddenly drops in the Atlantic, the turtles inevitably slow down, and are sometimes unable to migrate to warmer waters.

“These are turtles who run into freezing water, float to the surface, and basically are recovered on the shore,” said Wier. “They’re warmed up and retained at the New York Marine Rescue Center.”

The program, currently a small team of just four people, has wholeheartedly welcomed the collaboration with Wier, and both sides are keen on involving Pace’s graduate students in various initiatives at the center. Currently, the data collected by the team is used to increase understanding of different species, including growth rates, age at maturity, reproductive seasons, longevity, migration patterns, illnesses and death, environmental changes and disturbances, and much more.

Both parties realized the benefit of working together; for NYMRC, collaboration with Pace enables more curious minds to do impactful research and necessary conservation work. For Pace, NYMRC provides internship, volunteer, and research opportunities, as well as the ability to apply for unique and exciting research grants. 

For both parties, the future is bright, and the water, warm. 

“It’s a win-win situation on both ends,” says Montello.