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Program History

The history of the Georgia Southern University Sea Turtle Program at St. Catherines Island  is reviewed here within the context of the history of St. Catherines Island.

Gale A. Bishop began doing research on St. Catherines after a short reconnaissance visit in the company of Georgia Southern University colleague JoAnne Shadroui in 1986 to assess the potential for her to initiate research on the Island. The remarkable natural laboratory provided by the undeveloped island, the robust turn-key infrastructure provided by The St. Catherines Island Foundation, Inc., and the St. Catherines Island Research Grants Program administered through the American Museum of Natural History on behalf of the Edward John Noble Foundation proved to be an irresistible opportunity for Shadroui, who initiated a study McQueens Dune Field, and for Bishop, who initiated a study of modern Ghost Shrimp.

Studies of populations of Carolinean Ghost Shrimp on St. Catherines’ beaches were followed by documentation of the distribution and accumulation of deposits of heavy mineral suites on St. Catherines’ beaches (Bishop, 1990) and studies of the taphonomy of decapod crustaceans washed onto the beach. In 1990, while sampling Carolinean Ghost Shrimp populations with a Yabby Pump to study their life cycle and claw morphology, Bishop was assisted by biologist and science educator, Nancy Brannen Marsh. Upon watching GaDNR Sea Turtle Intern Tyronne Ragan “work” a nest on seaside Spit, Marsh suggested that this process would be a wonderful way to teach science content, scientific processing, and critical thinking to K-12 teachers in Georgia. Because of Bishop’s history of teacher education through support of the Georgia Plan for Mathematics and Science Education (Title II), Bishop and Marsh discussed the possibility of developing an externally funded program based upon conservation of sea turtle conservation. This concept was then discussed with Island Superintendent Royce Hayes who recognized its potential to support the newly mandated GaDNR Index Beach Program to conserve sea turtles on all Georgia barrier islands. In 1991 two interns, Ming Lee and Susan, womaned the fledgling program through the nesting season.

A proposal was written to the Georgia Plan for Mathematics and Science Education for support of a new St. Catherines Island Sea Turtle Conservation Program co-directed by Bishop and Marsh. The initial proposal was funded in 1991 by the newly named Georgia Eisenhower Higher Education Program and has been continually funded since then by Eisenhower and its new designation, the Georgia Teacher Quality Higher Education program. The initial grant supported 7 pairs of teacher-interns on St. Catherines Island housed for two-week intervals in the Turtle House. This plan was soon modified to teach one two-week class with 14 participants as a group. Student input indicated that two weeks was too long, considering their normal family obligations, so the residency was reduced to 7-8 days with two per-residency training meetings and a post-residency meeting. During the summers of 2002-2005 the Turtle House was assigned to the Wildlife Survival Center for housing their interns, so the Turtle Program worked out of Cabin 7.

Upon Bishop’s retirement in 1999, Fred Rich was formally brought into the Program as the Principal Investigator required under Teacher Quality guidelines. Bishop became Director of the Museum of Geology in 2001 and brought graduate and undergraduate students into the program to act as interns and use the experience for their graduate study. Parts of two masters theses resulted from this effort.

Staffing of the Program 2001-2006

  • 2001 Gale Bishop – South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • 2002 Tim Pranger – South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • 2003 Mike Knell – South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • 2004 Mike Knell-03/Maggie 2003 – South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • 2005 Clint Collins – University of Georgia; Sociology Sophomore
  • 2006 Bishop w Hollis Stewart – University of Georgia; College of Veterinary Sciences


  • Mike Knell
  • Maggie Hart

When Fred Rich assumed duties as Director of the East-Central Georgia PRISM Center (and grant) in 2005, Kelly Vance assumed duties as Principal Investigator and became an integral part of the Program. Nancy Marsh, co-founder of the program, formally retired from it due to health problems in 2005. Lynne Burkhalter was recruited as Senior Mentor (2005) and Michelle Griffin and Hollis Stewart were recruited as mentors in 2006.

Last updated: 12/11/2014