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

On September 30th, Earthwatch will finish its second fiscal year operating within the confines of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the ongoing restrictions and uncertainty, however, we continue to make slow but steady progress towards getting back to “normal.”

Our staff – many of whom were fully furloughed for most of 2020- are back to working full time. In May, we were thrilled to be able to resume four domestic expeditions, in Maine, Utah, California, and Washington, and starting this month, two projects in Andorra and Italy have re-opened, with several more international teams expected to join them by the end of the year. All of these expeditions are “COVID Ready”, which means that they feature modifications and new protocols to comply with COVID safety guidance and standards established by trusted health and travel authorities such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. State Department, and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as our independent security advisor, On Call International.

Earthwatch will also begin requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for participation on all expeditions beginning September 1st. This important safety measure will give our volunteers the best opportunity to enter countries where our research is located, and as a result, gives Earthwatch the ability to bring back the majority of our suspended expeditions. In 2022, we plan to have 32 projects returning across 21 countries, including Dr. Brooks' study which is set to welcome volunteers back into the field in March!

Donors like you have helped Earthwatch to survive the worst of the pandemic, and we look forward to the day when we can announce that all expeditions have safely returned to help give endangered species and habitats the protection they deserve. In the meantime, please visit our website to follow our re-opening progress, explore our other expeditions working to protect ocean health, and learn more about our upcoming 50th anniversary celebration!

Sincerely,

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

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When news of the coronavirus pandemic first broke, we knew that Earthwatch would be severely impacted, but I doubt that any of us expected to go more than a year without operating any of our conservation programs. Yet, that’s where we are today, with all research expeditions through April 2021 cancelled.

As you can imagine, this was a crippling blow to a medium-sized non-profit like Earthwatch. However, we have fabulous news to share! After many months of planning and preparation, we are thrilled to announce that Earthwatch will begin welcoming volunteers back into the field on three expeditions starting next month! Each expedition will feature new prevention measures put into place in accordance with the latest health and safety recommendations in an effort to reduce the risks of COVID.

Unfortunately, Dr. Brooks' sea turtle study in The Bahamas is not one of the expeditions that we are ready to bring back yet, but we will continue to work with our many scientists and field staff around the world to increase our risk management protocols in hopes of being able to add more expeditions to the re-opening list in the coming weeks and months ahead, just as soon as we can do so safely.

Although we still have a very long way to go before we return to full capacity, Earthwatch would not have made it even this far without the amazing outpouring of support we received from our donors and volunteers. Your generosity over the last year helped to save Earthwatch from having to close its doors indefinitely and provided the resources we needed to hunker down and outlast the pandemic.

Thank you again for your thoughtful donation that helped Earthwatch to survive this unprecedented crisis. Earthwatch will get to celebrate our "golden" 50th anniversary later this year only because of caring and committed friends like you!

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In our 50 year history, Earthwatch has weathered countless major storms: economic downturns, political uprisings, catastrophic weather events, even other disease outbreaks… but this pandemic is on track to be the most devastating of them all.

When news of the coronavirus broke at the beginning of the year, we knew that Earthwatch would be impacted, but I doubt any of us expected to go more than a year without fielding a single volunteer. Yet, that’s where we are today, with hundreds of expeditions cancelled through February 2021. This has not only impacted the organization financially, but has also impacted our ability to fulfill our mission as we lose hundreds of thousands of hours of volunteer service and even more in critical research funding for our scientists, student and teacher fellows, and community partners.

The toll this has taken on Earthwatch is unthinkable, but thanks to a Paycheck Protection Program grant, tremendous personal sacrifices from our staff, a history of prudent fiscal management that had us on solid footing heading into the year, and our generous donors, we’re still standing. Indeed, donors like you have made all the difference between Earthwatch potentially having to close its doors indefinitely and where we stand today—operating at strategically reduced capacity, but still fulfilling our mission the best we can through several new virtual programs.

And now that effective vaccines are on the horizon, we can say with confidence that we WILL make it through this. Earthwatch is one of the lucky ones. However, there are still many uncertainties as we prepare for a variety of reopening scenarios. What is certain though is that Earthwatch’s road to a full recovery will be long and rocky, and that we’ll be relying on donor and volunteer support more than ever in the months ahead to help get us there.

As we get ready to turn the page on 2020, we look forward to a new year filled with renewed hope and possibilities. Thank you for your support that turns scientific discoveries into lasting conservation victories around the world. If you are able to make a special year-end gift now towards Earthwatch’s reopening efforts, please do. We cannot wait until our volunteers are able to safely return to the field and our scientists can resume their research, and your gift today will be a huge help in getting us there!

With best wishes for a healthy and happy holiday season,

Your Friends at Earthwatch

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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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Earthwatch Institute

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