Earthwatch Institute

Our mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.
Jun 3, 2014

2014 Bahamas Sea Turtle Conservation is Underway!

“Swimming With Sea Turtles in the Bahamas” kicked off its 2014 research season on February 13th with a team of 9 spirited and eager volunteers. A second team of 8 volunteers arrived on April 10th to continue monitoring and data collection.

Turtle activity is strongest in the mid-summer to fall months, and this is when the majority of data collection will take place. The next teams of Earthwatch volunteers are due to arrive in the field at the end of June, and will consist of two dozen teenagers. Earthwatch reserves portions of many of its programs specifically for teens, who will receive a modified curriculum designed to enhance their learning experience, and provide them with additional resources they can use as they decide their future plans for higher education and careers. Earthwatch has a notable track record of inspiring teens to pursue science careers, including some who have gone on to become Earthwatch scientists themselves!

The 2014 research season in the Bahamas will conclude with a flurry of activity from 5 consecutive teams of volunteers from August 22nd – November 16th, with each team joining the research for 10 days. At this time, we expect that more than 60 volunteers will have participated and more than $150,000 will have been raised to support the many costs of this critical research, ranging from boat maintenance, to field and lab equipment, to room and board for the volunteers.

Thank you for your ongoing interest in and support of Earthwatch’s turtle conservation work in the Bahamas! None of this work would be possible without the commitment and generosity of donors like you!


Heather Wilcox

Jan 29, 2014

Swimming With Sea Turtles in the Bahamas - Begins Feb. 13th!

Swimming With Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Cape Eleuthera Institute, Eleuthera Island, the Bahamas
Earthwatch Scientists: Annabelle Brooks, Dr. Karen Bjorndal, Dr. Alan Bolten

Thank you for your generous contribution to Earthwatch’s “Swimming With Sea Turtles in the Bahamas” research expedition! The 2014 research season for this project is about to begin, on February 13th, and will operate until November 16th. We look forward to providing you with real-time participation and research updates throughout the year. In the meantime, here’s a brief summary of the research and activities your thoughtful donations are helping to make possible.

In order to save the green sea turtle and the hawksbill sea turtle from further decline, researchers need to ensure their habitats are protected from coastal development. But where exactly are these turtles most likely to be found, and why? With your help, these are the critical questions that Earthwatch scientists and volunteers will try to answer. The data they collect will then help researchers and the government create plans that will protect the right habitats – and the most turtles - from further harm.
The research focuses on five objectives:

  1. Recording Sea Turtle Abundance and Distribution: Scientists know that shallow waters serve as important feeding grounds for juvenile hawksbill and green sea turtles, but the characteristics of foraging grounds can vary greatly. Plotting the frequency of turtle visits to each site will help researches identify which ones are most popular.
  2. Mapping Habitat and Food Resource Availability: When compared with sea turtle numbers from the first objective, mapping food resources found in the foraging sites should help researchers understand how green sea turtles and hawksbills choose where to dine.
  3. Assessing Predation Risk: A suitable habitat is not just rich in food supplies; it’s also free from predators. Researchers hypothesize that areas crowded with predators will have fewer sea turtles.
  4. Long-Term Monitoring: Turtles travel throughout their lifetime. By tagging and monitoring their movements, scientists can determine what (and where) turtles eat while they grow.
  5. Determining Fine-Scale Movements: This objective involves tracking individual turtles to understand their daily movements and activities, using tags that transmit the turtle’s location,

Earthwatch scientists and volunteers will work towards these objectives using the following research methods:

  1. Turtle Abundance Surveys: From a boat, volunteers will spot turtles and record their locations via Global Positioning System (GPS), as well as the time, wind speed, cloud cover and other conditions.
  2. Habitat Surveys: Volunteers will snorkel through sites where turtles feed to collect sea floor habitat data (e.g., percentage cover of seagrass, algae, and sand) and determine physical characteristics such as depth, temperature, dissolved oxygen content, and mangrove root density. Volunteers will also collect plant tissue samples for chemical analysis and use GPS to identify locations of various sea floor characteristics.
  3. Tagging Sea Turtles: When a turtle is caught, volunteers will record the data as the scientists measure and weigh it, collect tissue samples, tag it, and finally release it gently back into the water.
  4. BRUV Work: From a boat, volunteers will bait, deploy, and retrieve Baited Remote Underwater Video units (BRUVs) that record the animals that swim into range.
  5. Acoustic Telemetry: Volunteers deploy acoustic transmitter tags and acoustic hydrophones either from a boat or while snorkeling. The data from these units will help us understand individual sea turtle movements within their foraging grounds and their habitat preferences.
  6. Data Management. In the evenings, or during unfavorable weather, volunteers will help with one of the most pivotal steps in any scientific research - entering and analyzing data – by transferring notes from the field into a database and analyzing BRUV video footage.

As you can see, there is a LOT of work to be done this year in the Bahamas in order to gain the knowledge and understanding needed to successfully protect the green sea turtle and hawksbill turtle from further endangerment, and none of it would be possible without the generosity of donors like you. Thank you for your ongoing support of this research!


Heather Wilcox
Director of Annual Giving & Advancement Services

P.S. If you are considering taking the plunge yourself and volunteering on this expedition – which we strongly recommend! - you can learn more about it here:


Nov 29, 2012

Volunteers made a difference for pandas in 2012!

Earthwatch and the scientists we support in their efforts to stave off extinction for the great panda are pleased to be able to report that from May to October of 2012, more than 50 individual volunteers traveled at their own expense to Chengdu, Sichuan, China to assist vital research efforts on seven different teams. Along with the support of Global Giving donors, including, especially, those who found this project through Animal Planet's 2012 R.O.A.R. campaign, they stood up for pandas and their habitats in the face of possible extinction.

Pandas face a rough set of odds in China and elsewhere: they are slow to breed, do not produce many offspring, are naturally curious and trusting, have sensitive nutrient needs, and their habitats are under tremendous threats from development, climate change, and other blows to biodiversity.

With your help, though, the researchers on this project took steps forward in 2012 in both reintroducing some pandas to the wild in protected areas, and in continuing a successful captive breeding project to preserve the species.

Here are just a few comments from Earthwatch volunteers who fielded on this project between May and October, 2012, and whose work you helped support:

"Being able to photograph and touch actual pandas were some of the best parts of this experience. 'Panda Kindergarten' at the base was great because the pandas were so active and you could see the babes in the nursery. The dedication shown by the project leaders, our guides, and the panda keepers was inspiring. It's wonderful to know that we contributed to efforts that may keep these animals from becoming extinct."—Keiko Y.

"It was a privilege to be with this endangered species."--Edward P.

"This project is gaining so much knowledge about how to reintroduce pandas to the wild. It's clear the scientists all feel this work will experience great successes down the road."--Connie A.


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