Nuclear Energy Insight January 2009
—For Michael Bresette, a passion for the conservation of sea turtles began at a nuclear power plant.
“I helped out with the sea turtle walks,” Bresette recalled. While working as a contractor at Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) mangrove habitat restoration and fish tagging and release programs in the late 1980s, Bresette volunteered his time to give small groups guided tours of the beach near the St. Lucie nuclear plant during the turtles’ egg-laying season.
Today, Bresette, a contracted senior environmental specialist with FPL, heads the company’s sea turtle protection program and leads Inwater Research Group, a nonprofit organization devoted to marine research and conservation that he and five other biologists founded.
FPL’s turtle education program has grown, too. FPL developed the College of Turtle Knowledge to educate the public about how the sea turtle is protected, monitored and studied in the area. Last year, the center conducted more than 200 turtle-specific programs for more than 9,000 people. More than 500 people participated in the company’s turtle walks in June and July.
The company’s conservation efforts also have attracted the attention of The Learning Channel’s Designing Spaces “Think Green” series. The Think Green team visited Bresette and other experts at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant last month to learn more about nuclear energy and see a first-hand example of the industry’s environmental commitment.
The Designing Spaces Think Green series will air a program in March that will explore FPL’s sea turtle protection program and look at nuclear energy’s contribution as an ecologically friendly electricity source.
Florida’s Hutchinson Island is home to the St. Lucie plant, which generates enough power to supply the annual needs of more than 500,000 homes.
Florida also is the most important sea turtle nesting area in the United States. Of the eight species of sea turtles worldwide, five are found in Florida. They create from 40,000 to 70,000 nests in the state annually.
Some sea turtle species have declined over the years as habitat has been lost and trade in sea turtle products has persisted. Thousands die each year from shrimp trawls, fishing gear and pollutants. By studying the turtles, Bresette and other researchers hope to acquire information to counteract those threats and ensure sea turtle survival.
The St. Lucie plant, with two miles of undeveloped beach and a remote intake pond, is a refuge for many sea turtles. Bresette heads the team that conducts health checks and collects data on turtles that enter the plant’s cooling water intake canal. The sea turtle research group also monitors turtle activity on the power plant’s beaches during the summer nesting season.
Biologists set nets for sea turtles in the intake canal seven days a week and are on call 24 hours a day to retrieve the few turtles that enter the plant’s canal system. The turtles are given a health inspection, weighed, measured and tagged for tracking purposes. Turtles found to be injured or sick are reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and are transported to one of five rehabilitation facilities in the state.
After examining healthy turtles, Bresette and his team release them back into the ocean. Through this process, FPL has collected more than 25 years’ worth of data with over 12,000 sea turtles captured and released. The program has compiled one of the largest databases of wild captured sea turtles in the world.
Bresette said sea turtles have been tracked during their migrations from Florida to locations as far away as Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
His job, he said, is nothing short of amazing.
“Seven, eight, 10, even 15 years later, the turtles have covered thousands of miles of open ocean,” Bresette said. “To watch that happen is watching conservation actually work.”
For more information about FPL’s sea turtle protection program, visit www.fpl.com/community/ learning/marine_ education_centers.html
. Information regarding Bresette’s Inwater Research Group can be found at www.inwater.org
. —Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.