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Biological and Environmental Monitoring and Archival of Sea Turtle Tissues (BEMAST)


BEMAST is a long-term biobanking project of the NIST Biorepository.  Biological samples from sea turtles are collected, cryogenically (≤ -150 °C) stored, and analyzed using detailed protocols for real-time and retrospective contaminant and health-related research studies. The archive contains blood samples collected from turtles along the U.S. East Coast (1998-2014), and a variety of tissues collected from turtles from the Pacific Ocean (2011-present).


Close up picture of green sea turtle swimming over rocky reef

Samples collected from marine organisms are used to assess real-time and retrospective monitoring of chemical contaminants.  Shown:  Green sea turtle in Hawaii.

Credit: Katherine Shaw (NIST)

BEMAST Objectives:

  1. To provide national, long-term plastic pollution monitoring of the occurrence, quantities, and potential effects of plastic ingestion by sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean.
  2. To receive and archive tissue samples from sea turtles caught as bycatch in longline fisheries or stranded in the Hawaiian Islands. Samples currently being collected include scute, fat, bile, liver, and gastrointestinal tracts. In addition, the biorepository continues to cryogenically archive blood, eggs, muscle, skin, and blubber samples from past collections. Sample collection and archival protocols remain unchanged since inception of the project.
  3. To analyze archived tissue samples for contaminants and health-related research.
  4. To make the collection accessible to other scientists through a tissue access policy for research projects consistent with the goals of BEMAST.

Ongoing Sample Analysis:

  • Long-term plastic ingestion monitoring
  • Plastic additive exposure
  • Radioactive isotope exposure
Pieces of plastic pulled from a sea turtle gastrointestinal tract arranged on a white background.
Ingested plastics removed from the gastrointestinal tract from a single sea turtle
Credit: NIST

Associated Publications


   1.    Corniuk, R. N., Lynch, J. M., Arendt, M. D., Braun-McNeill, J., Owens, D. W., Valverde, R. A., Kucklick, J. R., and McClellan-Green, P. D., "Using Plasma Vitellogenin in Loggerhead Sea Turtles to Assess Reproductive Maturation and Estrogen-Like Contaminant Exposure," Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, (2023).

   2.    Shaw, K. R., Cobb, G. P., Jones, T. T., Lynch, H. W., Liu, J., Cobb, G. P., Klein, D. M., and Lynch, J. M., "Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) Accumulate Heavy Metals Near a Former Skeet Shooting Range in Kailua, O'ahu, Hawai'i," Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 42, 1109-1123 (2023).

   3.    Savoca, M. S., Kuhn, S., Sun, C. J., Avery-Gomm, S., Choy, C. A., Dudas, S., Hong, S. H., Hyrenbach, K. D., Li, T. H., Ng, C. K. Y., Provencher, J. F., and Lynch, J. M., "Towards a North Pacific Ocean long-term monitoring program for plastic pollution: A review and recommendations for plastic ingestion bioindicators," Environmental Pollution, 310, (2022).

   4.    Banerjee, S. M., Stoll, J. A., Allen, C. D., Lynch, J. M., Harris, H. S., Kenyon, L., Connon, R. E., Sterling, E. J., Naro-Maciel, E., McFadden, K., Lamont, M. M., Benge, J., Fernandez, N. B., Seminoff, J. A., Benson, S. R., Lewison, R. L., Eguchi, T., Summers, T. M., Hapdei, J. R., Rice, M. R., Martin, S., Jones, T. T., Dutton, P. H., Balazs, G. H., and Komoroske, L. M., "Species and population specific gene expression in blood transcriptomes of marine turtles," Bmc Genomics, 22, (2021).

   5.    Renaguli, A., Fernando, S., Holsen, T. M., Hopke, P. K., Adams, D. H., Balazs, G. H., Jones, T. T., Work, T. M., Lynch, J. M., and Crimmins, B. S., "Characterization of Halogenated Organic Compounds in Pelagic Sharks and Sea Turtles Using a Nontargeted Approach," Environ. Sci. Technol., 55, 16390-16401 (2021).

   6.    Shaw, K. R., Lynch, J. M., Balazs, G. H., Jones, T. T., Pawloski, J., Rice, M. R., French, A. D., Liu, J., Cobb, G. P., and Klein, D. M., "Trace Element Concentrations in Blood and Scute Tissues from Wild and Captive Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas)," Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 40, 208-218 (2021).

   7.    Wood, C., Balazs, G. H., Rice, M., Work, T. M., Jones, T. T., Sterling, E., Summers, T. M., Brooker, J., Kurpita, L., King, C. S., and Lynch, J. M., "Sea turtles across the North Pacific are exposed to perfluoroalkyl substances," Environmental Pollution, 279, (2021).

   8.    Townsend, K., Ness, J., Hoguet, J., Stacy, N. I., Komoroske, L. M., and Lynch, J. M., "Testing the Stability of Plasma Protein and Whole Blood RNA in Archived Blood of Loggerhead Sea Turtles,Caretta caretta," Biopreservation and Biobanking, 18, 358-366 (2020).

   9.    Clukey, K. E., Lepczyk, C. A., Balazs, G. H., Work, T. M., Li, Q. X., Bachman, M. J., and Lynch, J. M., "Persistent organic pollutants in fat of three species of Pacific pelagic longline caught sea turtles: Accumulation in relation to ingested plastic marine debris," Science of the Total Environment, 610, 402-411 (2018).

10.    Jung, M. R., Balazs, G. H., Work, T. M., Jones, T. T., Orski, S. V., Rodriguez, C. V., Beers, K. L., Brignac, K. C., Hyrenbach, K. D., Jensen, B. A., and Lynch, J. M., "Polymer Identification of Plastic Debris Ingested by Pelagic-Phase Sea Turtles in the Central Pacific," Environ. Sci. Technol., 52, 11535-11544 (2018).

11.    Jung, M. R., Horgen, F. D., Orski, S. V., Rodriguez, C. V., Beers, K. L., Balazs, G. H., Jones, T. T., Work, T. M., Brignac, K. C., Royer, S. J., Hyrenbach, K. D., Jensen, B. A., and Lynch, J. M., "Validation of ATR FT-IR to identify polymers of plastic marine debris, including those ingested by marine organisms," Marine Pollution Bulletin, 127, 704-716 (2018).

12.    Lynch, J. M., "Quantities of Marine Debris Ingested by Sea Turtles: Global Meta-Analysis Highlights Need for Standardized Data Reporting Methods and Reveals Relative Risk," Environ. Sci. Technol., 52, 12026-12038 (2018).

13.    Stacy, N. I., Lynch, J. M., Arendt, M. D., Avens, L., McNeill, J. B., Cray, C., Day, R. D., Harms, C. A., Lee, A. M., Peden-Adams, M. M., Thorvalson, K., Segars, A., and Norton, T. M., "Chronic debilitation in stranded loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the southeastern United States: Morphometrics and clinicopathological findings," Plos One, 13, (2018).

14.    Clukey, K. E., Lepczyk, C. A., Balazs, G. H., Work, T. M., and Lynch, J. M., "Investigation of plastic debris ingestion by four species of sea turtles collected as bycatch in pelagic Pacific longline fisheries," Marine Pollution Bulletin, 120, 117-125 (2017).

15.    Keller, J. M., Ngai, L., McNeill, J. B., Wood, L. D., Stewart, K. R., O'Connell, S. G., and Kucklick, J. R., "Perfluoroalkyl contaminants in plasma of five sea turtle species: Comparisons in concentration and potential health risks," Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 31, 1223-1230 (2012).

16.    Alava, J. J., Keller, J. M., Wyneken, J., Crowder, L., Scott, G., and Kucklick, J. R., "Geographical Variation of Persistent Organic Pollutants in Eggs of Threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta Caretta) from Southeastern United States," Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 30, 1677-1688 (2011).

17.    Ragland, J. M., Arendt, M. D., Kucklick, J. R., and Keller, J. M., "Persistent Organic Pollutants in Blood Plasma of Satellite-Tracked Adult Male Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta Caretta)," Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 30, 1549-1556 (2011).

18.    Stewart, K. R., Keller, J. M., Templeton, R., Kucklick, J. R., and Johnson, C., "Monitoring persistent organic pollutants in leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) confirms maternal transfer," Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62, 1396-1409 (2011).

19.    O'Connell, S. G., Arendt, M., Segars, A., Kimmel, T., Braun-McNeill, J., Avens, L., Schroeder, B., Ngai, L., Kucklick, J. R., and Keller, J. M., "Temporal and Spatial Trends of Perfluorinated Compounds in Juvenile Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) along the East Coast of the United States," Environ. Sci. Technol., 44, 5202-5209 (2010).

20.    Swarthout, R. F., Keller, J. M., Peden-Adams, M., Landry, A. M., Fair, P. A., and Kucklick, J. R., "Organohalogen contaminants in blood of Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) from the Gulf of Mexico," Chemosphere, 78, 731-741 (2010).

21.    Alava, J. J., Keller, J. M., Kucklick, J. R., Wyneken, J., Crowder, L., and Scott, G. I., "Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) egg yolk concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and lipid increase during the last stage of embryonic development," Science of the Total Environment, 367, 170-181 (2006).

22.    Keller, J. M., McClellan-Green, P. D., Kucklick, J. R., Keil, D. E., and Peden-Adams, M. M., "Effects of organochlorine contaminants on loggerhead sea turtle immunity: Comparison of a correlative field study and in vitro exposure experiments," Environmental Health Perspectives, 114, 70-76 (2006).

23.    Day, R. D., Christopher, S. J., Becker, P. R., and Whitaker, D. W., "Monitoring mercury in the loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta," Environ. Sci. Technol., 39, 437-446 (2005).

24.    Keller, J. M., Kannan, K., Taniyasu, S., Yamashita, N., Day, R. D., Arendt, M. D., Segars, A. L., and Kucklick, J. R., "Perfluorinated compounds in the plasma of loggerhead and Kemp's ridley sea turtles from the southeastern coast of the United States," Environ. Sci. Technol., 39, 9101-9108 (2005).

25.    Keller, J. M., Kucklick, J. R., Stamper, M. A., Harms, C. A., and McClellan-Green, P. D., "Associations between organochlorine contaminant concentrations and clinical health parameters in loggerhead sea turtles from North Carolina, USA," Environmental Health Perspectives, 112, 1074-1079 (2004).

26.    Keller, J. M., Kucklick, J. R., and McClellan-Green, P. D., "Organochlorine contaminants in loggerhead sea turtle blood: Extraction techniques and distribution among plasma and red blood cells," Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 46, 254-264 (2004).

27.    Keller, J. M., Kucklick, J. R., Harms, C. A., and McClellan-Green, P. D., "Organochlorine contaminants in sea turtles: Correlations between whole blood and fat," Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 23, 726-738 (2004).

Created February 19, 2015, Updated January 5, 2024