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Rescuing Sea Turtles, Creating Opportunities

News Story

Pace's Environmental Science graduate program and Biology undergraduate program has entered an informal collaboration with the New York Marine Rescue Center, thanks to the work of alumna Maxine Montello '14 and Dyson’s Andrew Wier, PhD.

Maxine Montello ’14, earned her master’s degree in environmental science, and is currently the Rescue Program Director at the New York Marine Rescue Center (NYMRC) in Riverhead, New York. Montello has remained in touch with one of her professors, Associate Professor and Biology Chairperson Andrew Wier, PhD, who has become involved in the Center’s sea turtle rehabilitation project.

“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.”

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.”

Wier has participated in this initiative, venturing out to eastern Long Island to assist in the rescue and rehabilitation of these sea turtles.

The program, currently a small team of just four people, has wholeheartedly welcomed the collaboration with Wier, and both sides are keen on involving graduate students in various initiatives at the center.

“We’ve been developing a lot of in-house research here,” says Montello, “and I thought (Wier) would be a great person to lead some micro-projects on his end, and develop that relationship with potential graduate students to help us. We’re always looking for additional help to make sure that we’re able to do some of these larger projects, and these collaborations help us get the information out there.”

One thing Wier is interested in pursuing is to develop a molecular technique to identify the sex of sea turtles, which would be less invasive than current procedures. In addition to sea turtles, the NYMRC is also the primary response team for live pinnipeds (seals) and small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises), something Wier and Montello would like to further graduate student involvement and research.

“The Center also does work with pinnipeds—seals—and that’s an area we’re looking to move into with some research projects,” says Wier.

All in all, this continued partnership has the potential to be extremely fruitful for both parties. For the NYMRC, which has been around since 1980 (formally Okeanos), and opened its current rehabilitation facility in 1996, collaboration with graduate students enables to Center to continue to do productive, informative, and necessary work. For Pace, the partnership offers a wide range of internship, volunteer, and research opportunities, as well as the ability to apply for unique and exciting research grants.

As the academic year continues to progress, both parties are quite excited about the potential innovations and developments that can arise from working in a collaborative and productive manner.

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