National University Faculty, Students Present Sea Turtle Research at International Symposium

Research presented at April 15-20 Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation in Las Vegas is contributing to conservation of threatened loggerhead sea turtle

San Diego, Calif. – Under the direction of National University professor Mario Mota, a group of students are contributing to international efforts to save the threatened loggerhead sea turtle. Their research findings were presented at the 37th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation April 15 -20 in Las Vegas, which draws participants from around the world to discuss the latest research on the biology and conservation of sea turtles and their habitats.

Dr. Mario Mota, whose research focuses primarily on loggerhead green sea turtles in Florida and Belize, has been leading the National University team’s research that explores the impact of bacteria on loggerhead sea turtle nesting sites. As part of their research into these challenges, the team spent months researching sea turtle nesting sites at Florida beaches and analyzing sand samples in San Diego. The National University students who contributed to the project are: Gregory Heidel, Garett Huffstutler, Brian Arko, Nicole Salazar and Richard Cale.

Dr. Mota’s collaboration with students represents the opportunities National University students have to engage in projects and research that positively impact communities and the world at large.

“I’m always looking for students to involve in research, and this project is especially important because it could provide invaluable answers in protecting a threatened species,” said Dr. Mota, who is with the National University College of Letters and Sciences. “National University is all about preparing students to make an impact in the world once they graduate, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here.”

From their research, Dr. Mota authored an abstract, which includes the students as co-authors, titled, “Microbiotic Diversity in the Sand of Fourteen Florida Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches.” The research looks at microbiotic diversity in and around loggerhead sea turtle nesting sites to see what impact bacteria is having on incubation rates.

Dr. Mota, who has a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology and conservation from the University of Florida in Gainesville, has an extensive career studying sea turtles. He has been working with other sea turtle biologists and deploying satellite transmitters to track the movements of male green turtles during the breeding and nesting season. In addition, he has taught a marine biology course with a focus on sea turtles in Belize each summer for more than a decade. At National University, he teaches courses topics such as oceanography and marine biology.

Some National University students joined Dr. Mota during research activities in Florida, and others, including Heidel, worked in the lab studying bacteria levels. Heidel had already earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Tennessee when he joined the Navy. Upon leaving the armed services in 2015, he enrolled at National University and earned his EMT certification while taking pre-requisite courses for medical school.

“A lot of my friends from the military were already at the university and had absolutely nothing but good things to say about National University,” said Heidel, who is 30 years old, and works as an emergency room technician at Pomerado Hospital in Poway. “The instruction is excellent, it is a close-knit community and I really like the research activities that are available. All in all, it’s been a perfect fit for me.”

About National University
Founded in 1971, National University is the second-largest private, nonprofit institution of higher education in California. With more than 230,000 alumni, National University is the flagship institution of the National University System. National University is dedicated to making lifelong learning opportunities accessible, challenging, and relevant to a diverse population of students. Four schools and two colleges – the Sanford College of Education; the College of Letters and Sciences; the School of Business and Management; the School of Engineering and Computing; the School of Health and Human Services; and the School of Professional Studies – offer more than 75 graduate and undergraduate degrees and 13 teacher credentials and licenses. Programs are offered at locations throughout California and across the nation, and are also available online. National University is headquartered in La Jolla, California.

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