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UCF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have reached an agreement that will establish a conservation research facility at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

UCF must raise $5 million within the next five years to build new buildings at Archie Carr, university officials announced Wednesday in a news release.

The agreement gives UCF more control and responsibility for the existing facilities onsite and establishes a protocol for UCF to build research facilities and a plan that will give the university oversight of the facilities for 40 years or more.

Meanwhile, UCF's sea turtle crew will continue using the current building just across U.S. Highway A1A from the Archie Carr beaches.

“This agreement cements a decades-old partnership between the University of Central Florida and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said College of Sciences Dean Michael Johnson, who worked with a team from the college to make the agreement happen. “I am thrilled at the opportunity that this gives us to shape the future science of marine turtle conservation.”

UCF has run a sea turtle monitoring and research program at Archie Carr for more than three decades. The university's findings about sea turtle behavior are among the reasons the refuge was created in 1990, the release said.

“This kind of arrangement has never been done before, but the long and beneficial relationship with UCF and its researchers gave us cause to pursue it," said Bill Miller, refuge manager for Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.  "We look forward to continuing to work closely with UCF for the benefit of sea turtles and other conservation research efforts for decades to come.”

Biologist and assistant professor Kate Mansfield leads UCF's marine turtle research group, which spends June to November counting sea turtle nests and eggs at Archie Carr. The team also researches the health and behavior of juvenile sea turtles in the Indian River Lagoon near the Sebastian Inlet.

The team works in cramped quarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Caretta House. Under the agreement, they'll get continued access to the house, but UCF will have permission to build two structures – a building with a wet/dry lab and instructional space, including a conference room, and a crew house with overnight accommodations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to have use of the current and future facilities to conduct refuge business.

“The Brevard County portion of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge that we monitor is one of the most important nesting beaches in the Western Hemisphere,” Mansfield said. “We count over 20,000 nests on this stretch of beach in any given season. With the huge numbers of green sea turtle nests we are encountering in recent years, the turtles really keep us busy.”

Wildlife service officials said the agency will work with UCF "to ensure the public is informed throughout the planning process because public input is key to a successful project."

The new center will expand that research into the entire life cycle of endangered sea turtles.

“The agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives me peace of mind and will provide an excellent home base for our summer interns and my graduate students,” Mansfield said. “I envision a center for whole-life-history research will foster collaboration and conservation by providing space for visiting researchers, office space for federal turtle folks, and space for sea turtle working groups to meet.”

Sea turtle research will be the focus, but once the new space is built, UCF plans to broaden its research to other coastal conservation areas including the endangered southeastern beach mouse,threatened scrub jays and gopher tortoises that also inhabit Archie Carr.

“This agreement cements a decades-old partnership between the University of Central Florida and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said College of Sciences Dean Michael Johnson, who worked with a team from the college to make the agreement happen. “I am thrilled at the opportunity that this gives us to shape the future science of marine turtle conservation.”

The agreement was announced in the middle of sea turtle nesting season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlv7paio3V0&feature=youtu.be   

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