Mission and Responsibilities

The Sea Turtle Stranding Program at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) responds to every sea turtle stranding from the James River north to the Maryland border/Potomac River. The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center responds to strandings south of the James River and along the Eastern Shore.

The specific responsibilites of the VIMS Sea Turtle Stranding Program are to

  • coordinate state-wise stranding response via volunteers and cooperative agencies, including the Virginia Aquarium
  • provide daily and weekly stranding reports to federal agencies
  • maintain a database of all stranding events in Virginia (with more than 20 years of data, the VIMS database is the longest in existence for juvenile loggerhead and Kemp's ridley sea turtles)
  • operate an ongoing mark-recapture tagging program with local fishermen to tag and measure sea turtles caught within poundnets. Mark-recapture data have been collected for more than 15 years.
Current and Future Projects

The VIMS Sea Turtle Program has collected data on the abundance and distribution of sea turtles within Virginia's waters since 1979. Program scientists also study sea turtle migration, age and growth, physiology, and habitat use. The program has included aerial over-flights to estimate sea turtle abundances, satellite and radio telemetry studies to trace migratory patterns, and biological studies to determine feeding patterns, energetics, visual acuity and causes of mortality. Current and future projects include:

  • Tracking the at-sea movements of adult and juvenile sea turtles in Virginia's waters via satellite telemetry
  • Developing a tagging database to analyze foraging-site fidelity and behavior
  • Examining turtle interaction with various types of fishing gear in order to develop safer gear alternatives
  • Developing a state-wide training program for cooperating agencies
  • Developing an educational outreach program for local schools (class projects include tracking movements of turtles via satellite data)

The "Turtle Greenhouse" is located in the VIMS Boat Basin. It contains 12 tanks and a flow-through pump system. Live turtles, including those that are sick or injured, may be kept and cared for within the greenhouse during the summer months.