Bald Head Island Conservancy

Notes From the Field: The Conservancy Attends Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Meeting

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by Paul Hillbrand, Sea Turtle Biologist

Imagine stepping through the double doors of the Grand Ballroom of the Perdido Beach Resort and immediately being struck by the excited chatter and laughter of 200+ sea turtle biologists, students, and volunteers who have gathered together in person for the first time in three years. The air, thick with anticipation as clusters of people gather together in small groups, eagerly exchanging stories and discussing the latest developments in sea turtle conservation. Well, that is exactly what BHIC staff, interns and alumni experienced on the first of four days at the Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Network’s 2023 Meeting in Orange Beach, Alabama at the end of February.

The BHI Conservancy was represented at the Meeting by our Chief Scientist – Dr. Beth Darrow, Senior Educator – Dr. Jennifer Wiggen, Sea Turtle Biologist – Paul Hillbrand, and two previous Sea Turtle Protection Interns: Ali Johnson (2022) & Karlee Szympruch (2021).

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From right to left: Dr. Beth Darrow, Dr. Jennifer Wiggen, Ali Johnson, Karlee Szympruch, Rylie MacDonald, Natalie Mortimer, Paul Hillbrand, and Dr. Matthew Ramirez.

Ali presented work she conducted during her internship entitled “Me First! An Analysis of Loggerhead (Cc) Hatchling Size and Mass on Emergence Order”. She will be returning to Bald Head Island as BHIC’s Sea Turtle Technician for the 2023 nesting season!

Karlee also presented work she conducted during her internship entitled “Between the Calipers: An assessment of nesting experience on reproductive output”. She was recently promoted to Wildlife Survey Assistant for the Hawai’i Island Hawksbill Project!

From attending workshops on topics such as light management and satellite tagging, to presenting BHIC-led research, the team was busy from start to finish. Little did we know, within the “excited chatter and laughter of the 200+ sea turtle biologists, students, & volunteers” there were 5 BHIC alumni present! We were delighted to catch up with: 

  • Dr. Matthew Ramirez (Sea Turtle Protection Intern – 2011). Dr. Ramirez is now an Assistant Professor of Marine Ecology at University of North Carolina Wilmington. 
  • Ashley Kusel (Sea Turtle Protection Intern – 2016). Ashley is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Biology Department at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.
  • Natalie Monnier (Sea Turtle Protection Intern/Co-Coordinator 2017/18 & Coastal Educator 2017/18). Natalie is an M.S. candidate in the Marine and Environmental Science Program at the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas, USVI.  
  • Rylie Macdonald (Sea Turtle Protection Intern – 2019). Rylie is an M.S. candidate in the Biological Science Department at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Rylie placed second in the student competition! Congratulations, Rylie! 
  • Savannah Weber (Sea Turtle Protection Intern – 2020). Savannah is an M.S. candidate in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, Florida.

We are ecstatic to see so many BHIC alumni shining throughout the meeting and having a voice in the sea turtle community! Keeping making the Conservancy proud!

To learn more about the projects and posters presented by our staff, please visit the ‘Research Projects’ section of our website, here.


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