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Sea Turtle Conservation in the Bahamas

July 13, 2019 - July 20, 2019

| $2275

Location

Welcome to the Bahamas! For this expedition, we will be traveling to the Abaco Islands, located in the northern part of the Bahamas Islands chain. Abaco boasts a wide variety of habitats including pine forest and coppice, marine and inland blue holes, mangrove wetlands, rocky shore, sandy beaches, and coral reefs. Some of those habitat types fall within the nine existing National Parks and two Bahamas Marine Reserves, while others are under study for further conservation efforts.

The Bahamas contains an incredible amount of wildlife including over 300 species of birds that migrate to or live on the Bahamas Islands, including the Bahama parrot, Bahama wood star, and West Indian flamingo.

The waters surrounding the Bahamas offer a huge diversity of marine life and miles of coral reefs, which are populated with many types of species including clownfish, eels, angelfish, barracudas, and grouper. There are many other species found in the ocean around the Bahamas including types of dolphins, whales, sharks, stingrays, and manatees.

On the land of the islands, various species of amphibians and reptiles are present including types of snakes, frogs, iguanas, and lizards.

We will get a chance to hopefully see many of these species throughout the trip but the main focus will be sea turtles. The green sea turtle, listed status as endangered, and the hawksbill sea turtle, listed status as critically endangered, are representatives of sea turtles that have lived on earth and travelled the oceans for over 100 million years.

Sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and the beaches from where they hatched, which makes them an essential link to marine ecosystems and helps to maintain the health of sea grass beds and coral reefs.

Unfortunately sea turtle populations have declined significantly and are threatened by overharvesting of their eggs, hunting, being caught in fishing gear, loss of habitat, and disease.

During this expedition we will be working with sea turtle researchers to contribute to conservation projects in the Bahamas that help protect these magnificent species. Your participation in this expedition will directly contribute to these efforts to protect sea turtles.

Accommodations

During this expedition we will be staying at the Kenyon Research Centre. The centre is a safe and comfortable place located in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island. The centre includes comfortable bedrooms, a full kitchen, a lab, two covered outdoor workspaces, male and female restrooms, indoor and outdoor showers, and WiFi throughout the building.

For meals, most breakfasts and dinners will be eaten at the research centre, and most lunches will be eaten in the field. It is important to note that there will not be a chef on site so all people will be needed to help prepare and cook meals of local and fresh food during the week.

Some nights, people will also have the option to go to local restaurants and bars, which are about a 10 – 15 minute walk from the research station. We will go out for at least one group dinner during the week.

Project Leader

Elizabeth Whitman, Ph.D.

Elizabeth is broadly interested in the foraging ecology and ecosystem role of marine turtles. Grazers, at multiple levels, act as physical ecosystem engineers by causing changes to the environment that impact other organisms, and their ability to do this is dependent on several factors including food availability and predation risk. Assessing the role of large grazers in marine systems is critical because of the exploitation of top predators and the potential cascading effects in ecologically important sea grass ecosystems. Elizabeth explores the factors (predation risk, resource abundance, quality and identity) affecting habitat use of Caribbean green turtles using a combination of in-water surveys, aerial drone video transects, baited camera surveys, and sea grass community and nutrient content analyses. In Abaco, Bahamas, she is studying the top-down and bottom-up factors that may affect green turtle (Chelonia mydas) distributions through surveys of habitat, food availability, predators (sharks) and green turtle densities. In the French Antilles (Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin) she investigates the role that green turtles may play in the spread of the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea. The effects of predation risk and environmental stressors such as an invasive sea grass species on green turtle behavior will determine, at least in part, the trajectory of their populations and their role in sea grass ecosystems.

Elizabeth also works closely with non-profit organizations such as Friends of the Environment on Abaco, to share scientific knowledge with local communities and inspire future generations. She completed her dissertation research to earn a Ph.D. from Florida International University in 2018. She previously earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Purdue University and a Master of Science degree from the University of Virginia where she studied the hydrodynamics affecting larval transport and settlement onto intertidal oyster reefs.

Conservation Research Projects

The projects you will be taking part in will help to protect sea turtles and further the research. Young sea turtles mostly eat sea grass found in the shallow waters, but their habitats vary by having different features. During this expedition, you will monitor the turtles in these habitats and collect data about the turtles and areas to help determine the reason the sea turtles frequent these habitats.

The main project during the week will have the team catching sea turtles in the water to map the distribution of sea turtles and to check the severity of the Fibropapilloma disease, which has been spreading among sea turtles.

Catching the sea turtles will be done by finding a turtle in the water, and then jumping in to snorkel above the turtle until it needs to come up for air. Once it does, you will grab the turtle under the two front flippers and put it in the boat, where the team will take a tissue sample, tag, measure, and weigh the turtle before releasing it.

Another way to catch the turtles will be with nets in tidal creeks. The team will set up a net at the mouth of a tidal creek, which will catch turtles and other wildlife as the tide goes out. The team will collect the data before releasing the wildlife back into the water.

The group will also spend time snorkeling in turtle habitat where you will be able to record data such as the water’s temperature, depth, and collect plant samples. After the fieldwork is done for the day, the team will spend some time processing the samples and data.

Other projects that the group may take part in during the week, depending on the schedule, could be:

– Analyzing marine blue holes as nutrient sources to oligotrophic tidal creeks, which requires shallow free diving collection of water, sediment, and sea grass samples.

– Analyzing sea grass productivity across a landscape gradient, which requires shallow free diving and sea grass sample collection.

– Conducting drone surveys of sea grass grazing and for habitat mapping.

The work you do on this expedition will contribute to the long-term projects, which will help to determine where the sea turtles are going and how their population is holding up. As environmental factors change over time, it is essential to understand the movement of sea turtles so we can better protect their habitats.

Itinerary

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Arrive in the Bahamas. You will be flying into Leonard M. Thompson International Airport (airport code MHH), formerly known as The Marsh Harbour International Airport. The airport is located just 2.5 miles from where we are staying so take a short cab ride to the Kenyon Research Centre where guides will be waiting to meet you.

Sunday, July 14 – Friday, July 19, 2019

During the week, most of the time will be spent working on the conservation projects already described. But the group will take part in other activities apart from those projects that may include:

Blue Hole Field Trip – Visit Sawmill Sink, do a short hike in the pine forest, and swim in the blue hole.

Mangrove Field Trip – Travel to Broad Creek to see the restoration site to learn about mangroves and how to identify species found here. Possibly help with invasive plant removal at the restoration site.

Crossing Beach or Coconut Tree Bay – Help clean up a local community park.

Hope Town Field Trip – Visit a quaint island settlement, with the world’s last hand-wound kerosene-burning lighthouse. Visit the museum, explore gift shops, or hit the beach!

It is important to note that the itinerary will be determined by the weather and ocean tides so there may be changes to the itinerary during the week. It is also important to note that the group will spend a lot of time in the water so everyone must be able to swim and be comfortable spending hours everyday in the water. The days could be long and challenging, but the work will be important and it will be a fun and awesome experience.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

After a great week, pack up and head to the airport. See you on the next adventure!

Price

$2,275. This includes accommodations at the research center, all meals at the center and in the field, transportation to research sites, and guides leading the research projects. Not included in this fee is airfare to the Bahamas, travel insurance, or food or drinks in town.

Contact

For more information or to reserve a spot on this trip, contact us at adventure@tamanduajungle.com.

Details

Start:
July 13, 2019
End:
July 20, 2019
Cost:
$2275

Organizer

Tamandua Jungle
Email:
adventure@tamanduajungle.com
Website:
TamanduaJungle.com