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Educating educators about conservation
St. Catherines Island Sea Turtle Conservation Program participant Veronica Greco poses with a loggerhead that was making its way back to the ocean in May. - photo by Photo by Gale Bishop
Keeping tabs on the loggerhead population and the conservation efforts to preserve the species is just one aspect of Dr. Gale Bishop’s work at the St. Catherines Island Sea Turtle Conservation Program. The other, just as near and dear to his heart, is educating future teachers.
Bishop is the Director of the island’s sea turtle program and said he and colleague, Nancy Marsh were on St. Catherines Island in 1990 and watched a Georgia Department of Natural Resources intern completing a logger head nest.
“When Nancy Marsh saw what was going on she thought this would be a great way to teach science to school teachers, K-12 school teachers in the field,” Bishop said. “We approached Royce Hayes (The island’s foundation director) and submitted a proposal and that proposal led to a 20-year funding cycle.”
The Georgia Teacher Quality Higher Education program currently funds the program.
“We are trying to fit the mantra of the (St. Catherines Island) Foundation which is conservation, research and education, as our mission statement and I feel we do that quite well,” said the geologist, paleontologist and science education major who received his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin.
The former Georgia Southern University teacher lives part-time in Fayette, Iowa, but early each May he is back on the island and preparing for the next group of future educators. He said they make accommodations for 12-16, K-12 teachers and interns who usually spend seven to eight days on the island.
“The program has three parts,” he said. “First of all we have a conservation aspect and we monitor the beaches, usually from May 1 until September on a daily basis rain or shine. Secondly we do a lot of research on the nesting ecology of the loggerhead sea turtle. We do a lot of non-invasive experiments that tell us a lot about why they select certain sites, why certain sites are successful and why certain sites are unsuccessful and then we have the third component which is the education component, which is what started this whole program.”
He said the program involves educators in active ‘hands on’ conservation and management activities. He said the program teaches alternative principles of scientific inquiry, scientific methodology, scientific documentation and process, provides a suite of classroom teaching resources and helps build a regional citizen advocacy group for conserving sea turtles.
“We get up early and do dawn patrol. As early as we can, based on tidal range. Like this morning we left at 4:45 a.m. and we were on the beach by 5:15,” he said about a daily check conducted July 26. “We patrol roughly 16 kilometers of beach and every beach is accessed from a different road. We look for new nesting crawl ways and hatchling crawls. We watch for stranded marine turtles and mammals and if we find one alive we follow protocol to deal with those. We spend around 6 and a half hours monitoring the beach each day.”
The group also checks for new nests and determines whether they need to be protected from predators or moved due to the high erosion of the island’s coast.
“The turtles have three main predators the feral hogs, raccoons and the ghost crabs,” Bishop said. “We try and keep our depredation down to 15 percent or less. We lost two nests to raccoons.”
Bishop said nests are all around the island’s coastline, stretching from little Brunson creek on the south all the way around to the north end of the island and a few along St. Catherines sound.
“The number of turtles that nest each year fluctuates wildly because they nest one year and then take one-three years off,” he said. “They are laying clutches of eggs with around 113 eggs per clutch and most of them are laying five-six clutches per year. It’s a huge investment in biologic energy they are putting into the beaches.”
He said erosion forced them to relocate 78 percent of this year’s nests.
Program participants document the nests’ location using a GPS device. The nests are also photographed or sketched. Clutches hatch after about 60 days. The group then determines the hatching success of each nest by excavating each nest and counting un-hatched and hatched eggs after emergence. Everything is documented.
For more information about the St. Catherines Island Sea Turtle Conservation Program visit:
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