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Researcher puts sea turtles in swimsuits to collect fecal samples

By
Ben Hooper
Owen Coffee, a Ph.D. student at the University of Queensland, designed special sea turtle swimsuits to help him collect fecal samples for his research. Photo courtesy University of Queensland
Owen Coffee, a Ph.D. student at the University of Queensland, designed special sea turtle swimsuits to help him collect fecal samples for his research. Photo courtesy University of Queensland

BRISBANE, Australia, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Researchers at Australia's University of Queensland dressed sea turtles in homemade swimsuits so they could collect the animals' feces for research.

Owen Coffee, a Ph.D. student at the school, said he was trying to collect fecal samples from six captured loggerhead sea turtles so he could analyze their diet with an aim toward identifying their foraging areas for conservation purposes.

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Coffee, who is being assisted in his project by University of Queensland researcher Carmen da Silva, said his plan ran into a snag when he realized how difficult it was to retrieve the samples from the turtle tank at the Moreton Bay Research Station.

"It was challenging to collect the entire fecal sample once it dispersed into the water," Coffee said. "So we developed a flexible funnel anchored to the shell, to fit over the turtle's tail. But this was not a good answer either. Because the animals are so large, it was difficult to keep the devices in place."

Dr. Kathy Townsend, the station's education coordinator, told coffee about a previous project that involved creating flexible harnesses from "swimsuit material" to help study the vision of sea turtle hatchlings.

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Coffee said he modified some second-hand sun shirts to act as harnesses for the "giant nappy."

"After a few modifications, including Velcro-attachments for the 'nappy,' we hoped we had the perfect solution to our unusual problem," Townsend said. "To our great surprise, it worked perfectly. The suits were easy to put on, comfortable for the sea turtles to wear, looked great, and Owen was able to collect the entire fecal sample."

The turtles' swimsuits were removed after the samples were collected and the animals returned to the wild in Moreton Bay.

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