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Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project Celebrates 25 Years Researching Turtle Nesting Ecology

In my last post I reminisced about my childhood fascination with aquatic turtles. As a young hobbyist and amateur naturalist I had amassed a collection of these shelled reptiles to the dismay of my parents.  Back then it seemed that with every coming year, I needed a bigger tank or pool to house my assortment...

In my last post I reminisced about my childhood fascination with aquatic turtles. As a young hobbyist and amateur naturalist I had amassed a collection of these shelled reptiles to the dismay of my parents.  Back then it seemed that with every coming year, I needed a bigger tank or pool to house my assortment of ancient, cold-blooded beasts–contemporaries of the dinosaurs. Some grew, but some certainly arrived larger than those existing residents who first made my house their home in previous years. 

I’d like to think that I had created an educational exhibit for the neighbors as opposed to just a growing menagerie of wet herpetiles.

I now am much more cognizant of the impact the pet trade has on freshwater turtle conservation.  Whether one is depleting wild populations or expanding the range of common species through introducing captive-born animals to the wild–the impact takes its toll. 

In my previous post I somehow failed to mention one of the iconic conservationists who inspired my passion for herpetology and my novice attempt to curate of a collection of select herpetofuana.

Dr. Archie Carr was a naturalist, an iconic conservationist, and a highly esteemed herpetologist. His book So Excellent a Fishe: A Natural History of Sea Turtles introduced me to some of the most majestic creatures I have ever learned about–marine turtles. They are quite different from their fresh and brackish water cousins and perhaps a bit more graceful in the water.

I’m quite certain that I had seen a sea turtle in captivity prior to reading the book.  Unfortunately, such a captive ambassadors commonly viewed in public–as important as they are–tell only a snapshot of the life history of these chelonians.

All 7 marine turtle species are threatened. The bulk of these threats are human-induced from pollution to loss of habitat.  In fact, only a few large nesting sites for some of the species exist today. The hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles comprise those with particularly marginal nesting grounds of good size. However, all marine turtles are recognized internationally as a species of conservation concern and thanks to some dedicated organizations efforts to save these turtles are making a difference.

I’d like to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project, the longest running hawksbill sea turtle research program in the world. Supported by the Jumby Bay Island Company, the conservation project is embraced by indigenous people and visitors to the private island off Antigua’s coast. Antigua, itself, is an island in the West Indies. 

I first learned about this project through the organization’s former Field Project Director, Seth Stapleton. Seth continues to work with the organization, but has gone on to study another pelagic, marine species–the polar bear–for his PhD.

Photo (by Dominic Tilley): WE5252

It is on Pasture Beach, a 450 meter stretch of calcareous sand, that Seth and his colleagues return to each June to monitor hawksbill turtle nesting activity.  The team patrols the beach between dusk and dawn–the only period of time when the hawksbills nest.

Hourly census work is conducted on the nesting turtles during the patrols in conjunction with studies of nesting habitat and specifics regarding the size and condition of previously tagged individuals. Unmarked turtles receive a flipper tag and a notch in their carapace.  All of this information helps the team “monitor the reproductive output, population status and demographics, and long-term trends of Jumby Bay’s hawksbill colony.”

WE5252 (pictured above) returned to sea at 5:30AM on June 30th, 2011 according to an entry in a JBHP blog post earlier this past summer. The update goes on to indicate that “preseason patrols in May revealed 8 nests, bringing the total to 56 nests.” 

Studying nesting activity can be tedious, but it is critical to learning about the reproductive ecology of a hawskbill colony. There was good news overall. “Despite changes in beach landscape due to erosion and seaweed buildup in the off-season, turtles have been nesting more successfully this [2011 season]. So far, successful nest attempts have outnumbered unsuccessful attempts or ‘false crawls’, contrary to what has been shown in previous years. Turtles [nested] across all sections of Pasture Beach [this season], even where activity has traditionally been sporadic (e.g. the middle of the beach containing vegetation islands).”

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Jordan Carlton Schaul
With training in wildlife ecology, conservation medicine and comparative psychology, Dr. Schaul's contributions to Nat Geo Voices have covered a range of environmental and social topics. He draws particular attention to the plight of imperiled species highlighting issues at the juncture or nexus of sorta situ wildlife conservation and applied animal welfare. Sorta situ conservation practices are comprised of scientific management and stewardship of animal populations ex situ (in captivity / 'in human care') and in situ (free-ranging / 'in nature'). He also has a background in behavior management and training of companion animals and captive wildlife, as well as conservation marketing and digital publicity. Jordan has shared interviews with colleagues and public figures, as well as editorial news content. In addition, he has posted narratives describing his own work, which include the following examples: • Restoration of wood bison to the Interior of Alaska while (While Animal Curator at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and courtesy professor at the University of Alaska) • Rehabilitation of orphaned sloth bears exploited for tourists in South Asia (While executive consultant 'in-residence' at the Agra Bear Rescue Center managed by Wildlife SOS) • Censusing small wild cat (e.g. ocelot and margay) populations in the montane cloud forests of Costa Rica for popular publications with 'The Cat Whisperer' Mieshelle Nagelschneider • Evaluating the impact of ecotourism on marine mammal population stability and welfare off the coast of Mexico's Sea of Cortez (With Boston University's marine science program) Jordan was a director on boards of non-profit wildlife conservation organizations serving nations in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia. He is also a consultant to a human-wildlife conflict mitigation organization in the Pacific Northwest. Following animal curatorships in Alaska and California, he served as a charter board member of a zoo advocacy and outreach organization and later as its executive director. Jordan was a member of the Communication and Education Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CEC-IUCN) and the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (BSG-SSC-IUCN). He has served on the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society and in service to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA Bear TAG). In addition he was an ex officio member of council of the International Association for Bear Research and Management. Contact Email: