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Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas

by Earthwatch Institute
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
Earthwatch's Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas
An untagged new(!) green sea turtle on Eleuthera
An untagged new(!) green sea turtle on Eleuthera

Thanks to the ongoing commitment of supporters like you, the end of 2019 marks the completion of 6 years of continuous study of sea turtles in The Bahamas. Unfortunately, this year was the most challenging season yet, as a deadly turtle-specific virus continues to spread amongst the islands, and Hurricane Dorian devastated the country after making landfall on Great Abaco Island in September.

Prior to Hurricane Dorian, new research on Abaco was going especially well, with volunteer teams tagging over 200 turtles, including several loggerhead and hawksbill turtles, which are not seen very often on Eleuthera. This massive undertaking established an excellent baseline population for the long-term recapture studies planned for the following years. 

With the help of four graduate students, lead scientist Dr. Brooks was able to dedicate one full month of data collection to studying the fibropapillomatosis disease, collecting data from over 80 turtles in Abaco and Andros, as well as turtles on Eleuthera. This is the first extensive study of its kind in the region, and will provide important data on the spread and impacts of the disease that will be used to try to identify possible treatment or management strategies.

Dr. Brooks’ complete analyses and findings from all of these activities will be released early next year. In the meantime, as Boston gets colder and darker every day, we are looking forward to returning to The Bahamas in 2020, when Earthwatch will continue data collection on Eleuthera and Great Exuma, and support rebuilding and humanitarian efforts on Great Abaco however we can.

As sea turtles remain under threat from fishing, pollution, coastal development, pollution, and climate change, every year’s worth of data collected is critical to our complete understanding of each species, and brings us closer to identifying the most effective protection strategies. Earthwatch must raise almost $500,000 in donations annually in order to fully fund Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas and other important marine conservation efforts around the world. This means that none of this work would be possible without the generous commitment from donors like YOU. Thank you for your steadfast commitment to protecting endangered sea turtles.

On behalf of Earthwatch’s scientists, staff and board, Happy New Year!

Gratefully,

Heather Wilcox
Director of Annual Giving & Planned Giving
978-450-1208
hwilcox@earthwatch.org

These teen volunteers helped tag over 200 turtles!
These teen volunteers helped tag over 200 turtles!
Always nice to see such a large, healthy turtle!
Always nice to see such a large, healthy turtle!
Volunteers also study sea turtle habitat for clues
Volunteers also study sea turtle habitat for clues
Dr. Brooks holds a juvenile green sea turtle
Dr. Brooks holds a juvenile green sea turtle

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Volunteers help guide their boat after a turtle
Volunteers help guide their boat after a turtle

With your help, Earthwatch’s 6th season of critical sea turtle conservation in The Bahamas is underway. Over 50 volunteers will come together this year to form eight research teams that will assist Lead Scientist Annabelle Brooks with capturing and studying endangered green and hawksbill sea turtles. Thanks to the consistent support of our adventurous volunteers and donors like you, Dr. Brooks was able to expand her data collection efforts this year to include research sites on Exuma island.

This expansion couldn’t be more timely: a deadly turtle-specific virus called fibropapillomatosis (FP) has begun infecting turtles in The Bahamas. FP does not infect humans, but can be deadly to the turtles as they develop large tumors on their heads and flippers that eventually constrict movement, vision, and feeding. FP has been observed in all species of sea turtles except for leatherbacks. It is most common in green turtles, and juvenile turtles, but scientists are still unsure as to why this is, what causes the disease, and how it is spread.

The sudden emergence of FP in The Bahamas is a testament to the importance of consistent, long term data collection. Building on over five years’ worth of baseline data collected prior to the onset of FP, Earthwatch teams will now document its spread in search of possible prevention and recovery methods.

We look forward to updating you on their progress after this season’s fieldwork concludes in September. In the meantime, thank you for all you do to help multi-year conservation studies like this one. Together, we are making a real difference in the fight to sustain our planet, one species, one donation, and one day at a time.

With gratitude,

Heather Wilcox
Director of Annual Giving
978-450-1208
hwilcox@earthwatch.org

P.S. Remember, you don't just have to read about this research from afar... you can dive into the action as an Earthwatch research volunteer! Please follow the link below to see which teams are accepting volunteers for 2019 and 2020.

 

** All photos provided courtesy of Annabelle Brooks **

A successful snorkel chase!
A successful snorkel chase!
Heading back to shore to collect measurements
Heading back to shore to collect measurements
A turtle infected with the FP virus
A turtle infected with the FP virus
Each turtle is returned to its capture location
Each turtle is returned to its capture location
Earthwatchers also collect trash from the beach
Earthwatchers also collect trash from the beach

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A sea turtle is carefully tagged
A sea turtle is carefully tagged

Last month, Earthwatch’s Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas expedition completed research activities in its 5th season, which ran from February – September. During this time, nearly 50 volunteers worked alongside Lead Scientist Annabelle Brooks and her staff to collect important data on the health and behaviors of juvenile sea turtles in the Bahamas. These observations are helping scientists and wildlife managers better understand how sea turtles choose their feeding sites in order to protect them during this critical life stage.

With the continued support of generous donors like you, Dr. Brooks was able to expand her research this year to neighboring Abaco and Andros islands. In 2019, Earthwatch volunteers will also collect data on previously unstudied Exuma.

Do the turtles travel the hundred miles or so between islands? Will the turtles at each location exhibit the same foraging behaviors? What new insights might this expanded data set reveal? We hope to answer these questions and more following careful analysis over the next few months.

In the meantime, thank you for all you do to help multi-year conservation studies like this one. Together, we are making a real difference in the fight to sustain our planet, one species, one donation, and one day at a time.

Best wishes for a joyous holiday season,

Heather Wilcox
Director of Annual Giving & Advancement Services
hwilcox@earthwatch.org
978-450-1208

P.S. Remember, you don't just have to read about this research from afar... you can be at the center of the action as an Earthwatch research volunteer! Please follow the link below to see which teams are accepting volunteers for 2019.

**All photos provided courtesy of Annabelle Brooks **

Earthwatchers get ready to track turtles
Earthwatchers get ready to track turtles
A volunteer prepares to dive in after a turtle
A volunteer prepares to dive in after a turtle
The chase is on!
The chase is on!
Success!
Success!
Teen volunteers record seagrass bed data
Teen volunteers record seagrass bed data
A captured turtle is gently released
A captured turtle is gently released

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Sea turtles are released after measuring
Sea turtles are released after measuring

Thank you for supporting Earthwatch’s Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas research expedition. Earthwatch Lead Scientist Annabelle Brooks has completed her analysis of the data collected during the 2017 season, the fourth year of this ongoing study. Below, Annabelle shares highlights from the season and expresses her gratitude for your generosity that keeps this exciting project going.

Thank you so much for helping us accomplish so much in 2017, our fourth year of the Earthwatch funded research program. Your contributions were vital in collecting a vast amount of data and also allowed us to see some incredible things in the field. Our turtle database has grown vastly and we continue to get fantastic recapture information. Fieldwork was a very exciting and rewarding time—a highlight being the predation of a green sea turtle by a juvenile tiger shark right before our very eyes! Two Master of Science students from the UK were able to collect a huge amount of data and complete their thesis projects that address habitat and food availability and homing behavior, as well as establish a new study that looks at sea turtle diet. We were also able to conduct an island-wide educational campaign.

The Cape Eleuthera Institute hosted their very first Sea Turtle Summer Camp for Bahamian students. This opportunity welcomed children between ages 14-17 to spend four days on our campus to participate in sea turtle research and other conservation projects. The existence of this project made it possible for school children from Eleuthera and Nassau to see sea turtles up close and learn more about their ecology and the importance of their conservation. Students were given an in-depth introduction to sea turtles, providing information on general biology, life history, threats, and conservation. The camp leaders also described the importance of the research we are conducting on resident juvenile green sea turtles, which inhabit the shallow Bahamian waters to forage on seagrass.

For a second year, the staff of the Cape Eleuthera Island School also ventured into the field and experienced a day in the life of an Earthwatch volunteer! These individuals are now part of the wider community – like yourselves – who advocate for sea turtle conservation and the habitats they exist in.

I thank you again for supporting this important work.

Annabelle Brooks
Earthwatch Lead Scientist


Want to learn more? Follow the link below to read the full results and conclusions of the 2017 research season. And remember - you don't just have to read about this research from afar... you can be at the center of the action as an Earthwatch research volunteer! Visit the expedition sign up page to see which teams are still accepting volunteers in 2018.

Thank you again for your generosity and commitment to conserving threatened sea turtles!

With gratitude,

Heather Wilcox
Director of Annual Giving & Advancement Services
hwilcox@earthwatch.org
978-450-1208

A captured sea turtle is examined and measured
A captured sea turtle is examined and measured
A volunteer records habitat data in the mangroves
A volunteer records habitat data in the mangroves
A tracking device is affixed to a turtle's shell
A tracking device is affixed to a turtle's shell
Teen volunteers on the lookout for turtles
Teen volunteers on the lookout for turtles
Lead Scientist Annabelle Brooks w/ a green turtle
Lead Scientist Annabelle Brooks w/ a green turtle

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Behind the scenes look at video shoot
Behind the scenes look at video shoot

Earthwatch is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Malibu Rum in support of Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas! Announced on June 16th—World Sea Turtle Day—Earthwatch's efforts to conserve endangered juvenile green and Hawksbill turtles will be highlighted as part of Malibu’s 101 Days of #BecauseSummer advertising campaign. Videos produced by Vice Media featuring Earthwatch Lead Scientist Annabelle Brooks and six millennial Instagram celebrities who are passionate about marine conservation —including professional surfer Alana Blanchard—will help spread the word amongst their millions of social media followers.

Malibu has also issued a fundraising challenge to sea turtle supporters: for every photo of fans making summertime memories shared to Instagram, Malibu will donate $5 to Earthwatch, up to $100,000 USD! The campaign runs through August 31st.

While this is an amazing opportunity to raise much-needed awareness and funding for this research, there is no guarantee of the level of participation by the public. This is what makes your continued support so important and impactful. Since its founding in 1971, Earthwatch has connected researchers and citizen scientists on 21 sea turtles studies in 13 countries, helping to conserve all 7 species. None of these long-term studies would be possible without the special generosity and commitment of donors like you.

Thank you for your ongoing interest in Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas. Now mid-way through it’s 4th season, we expect to have over 90 volunteers participate this year in important data collection for Annabelle’s research, which she has expanded to new locations and now also includes shark monitoring to better understand their predatory behaviors on young sea turtles. We look forward to updating you on the progress of Malibu’s fundraising campaign as well as interesting findings from the research later in the year. In the meantime, you can learn more about the Malibu partnership on Earthwatch’s blog, or sign up to become a turtle volunteer yourself through the links below!

Millennial Instagram celebrities measure turtles
Millennial Instagram celebrities measure turtles
Pro surfer Alana Blanchard before releasing turtle
Pro surfer Alana Blanchard before releasing turtle
Logging turtle data while Annabelle looks on
Logging turtle data while Annabelle looks on

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Earthwatch Institute

Location: Boston, MA - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @earthwatch_org
Project Leader:
Heather Wilcox
Boston, MA United States
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