By Alicia Wilson,
Coastal Program Coastal and Marine Resource Specialist Fellow,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
While spending my first field season of graduate school on the coastal barrier islands of Georgia, I thought I was lucky to witness a record number of loggerhead sea turtle nests for the state. Three years later, as I watch from my fellowship in D.C., I am even more amazed. Loggerhead sea turtle ladies are kicking butt in Georgia. They are poised to break all nesting records in the state, with an anticipated final nest count of over 4,000! Just 15 years ago, the count hovered around 400 nests total for the entire state.
The many news articles and social media posts this summer have me feeling very nostalgic (and jealous!) for the days I spent on the beach monitoring the elevation of sea turtle nests. But, even though I am not in the field working with these ancient turtles, my Knauss fellowship position is at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and I am learning how many regulations and policies have led to the success of loggerhead sea turtles that we see today.
My field work gave me the amazing opportunity to watch a nest of hatchlings emerge and scramble their way down the beach.
Much of this nesting rebound can be attributed to the 1978 listing of loggerhead sea turtles as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This listing gives the USFWS the means to protect and manage nesting beach habitat and NOAA the authority to manage marine turtles when at sea.
My position this year is the Coastal and Marine Resource Specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program. The Coastal Program facilitates voluntary, collaborative coastal conservation so that wildlife and people thrive. We offer financial and technical assistance for habitat conservation in coastal watersheds and marine ecosystems. Part of my fellowship work for the year is to sort through and highlight field projects for an annual accomplishment’s report.
My master’s work focused on measuring nest elevation to better predict the biological impact of extreme high tide events on sea turtle nests. Now in my position I learn about conservation projects supported by the Coastal Program.
One of the best aspects of the year has been the opportunities to actually see some of those projects I’ve been reading about on paper, in the field. and learn first hand about the on-the-ground habitat conservation work our Coastal Program staff and partners do. The Coastal Program has worked on several sea turtle restoration and habitat improvement projects in the Southeast, Puerto Rico and in the Pacific Islands. Seeing the impact our projects have on an entire species is remarkable, from working with partners to monitor nests, to restoring native vegetation on nesting dune habitat, to working with communities to install turtle friendly lighting, Coastal Program biologists really are doing it all!
Conservation takes a village and we wouldn’t be at this record breaking year for loggerhead sea turtle nesting throughout the Southeast without the amazing collaborative conservation efforts that make up this success story and numerous other coastal habitat restoration achievements. I’m proud to have played a small role in this victory along with many dedicated people, agencies, nonprofits and volunteers who have spent the last two decades or more working for the conservation of fish and wildlife.
I attended the Southeast region’s Coastal Program and Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program’s annual meeting in Alabama where I met staff and saw on the ground habitat restoration projects.