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Program Implementation

Loggerhead sea turtles [Caretta caretta Linneaus 1758] comprise one of seven species of endangered marine turtles protected by international, national, and state statutes. Loggerhead sea turtle nesting grounds include the sandy beaches of Georgia’s Sea Islands. In 1990, biologist, and Portal High School teacher, Nancy Marsh and Georgia Southern University professor Gale Bishop began the monitoring and conservation of loggerhead sea turtle nests on St. Catherines Island, Georgia. This conservation program has grown and developed since 1990 to provide a unique platform for integration of STEM undergraduates, pre-service and in-service teachers into an on-going scientific research program and learning community based on the extraordinarily rich educational environment provided by St. Catherines Island and the strong support of a successful, long-running partnership between private and public agencies.

The St. Catherines Sea Turtle Conservation Program was planned during 1990 -1991, funded and implemented in 1992 with the support of The Georgia Teacher Quality Higher Education Program, St. Catherines Island Foundation, Inc., the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and Georgia Southern University. In 2014, the program was reconstituted as the Georgia Southern University Sea Turtle Program at St. Catherines Island in recognition of Georgia Southern’s increasing commitment to the program.

In order to be successful, the program was planned with clear objectives in “conservation, research, and education.” Expectations are clearly presented within syllabi for three college-level courses GS GEOL 5740: Sea Turtle Natural History, GS GEOL 5741: Sea Turtle Conservation, and GS GEOL. 5890 Barrier Island Environmental Geology. Addition of this web site and distance learning capability in 1995, and revision of this website in 2003 expanded the potential service of The St. Catherines Sea Turtle Conservation Program. With impetus from the Improving Teacher Quality Program in 2001, networked groups (professional learning communities) were established, and learning communities from single schools, school districts, or geographic areas in Georgia began to appear. The concept was extended by having previous interns recruit one to three colleague teachers, and then return with their learning group as a mentor. This mentoring concept was further enhanced in 2005 with appointment of Senior Mentors, two highly motivated teacher-interns who are interested in continuing participation for a third year and on a continuing basis. In 2012 ITQ Funding was lost and the Program was reformatted into an undergraduate program to support Georgia Southern undergraduates.

The pragmatic solution to a matrix of diverse problems has led to the development of what we call The GSUSTP@St. Catherines Science Education Model. Scientific content for the sea turtle interns is provided through classroom and field lectures, books, papers, and pamphlets, video productions, and one-on-one instruction in the field. These media are now being supplemented by this, and other Internet sites, distance learning, computer applications, and a former portable sea turtle classroom exhibit.

St. Catherines Island is an undeveloped, barrier island in Georgia’s Golden Isles. This 10 mile long and 1-3 mile wide island presents a full spectrum of relatively undisturbed natural environments for study by scientists working through its Field Research Program and an Archaeology Project centered on study and preservation of historic elements including a Spanish mission, the Button Gwinnett House, and two plantations with surviving slave cabins.

In order for us to offer this field experience and follow-up course to undergraduates and school teachers, it is necessary for the Core Faculty of the GSUSTP@SCI to commit to complete the entire sea turtle conservation program on St. Catherines Island; including a full-time commitment to ~180 days of work (representing 94.7% of a normal teacher’s annual teaching contract!), including 140 continuous days of daily monitoring each summer.


The GSUSTP@SCI Brain Trust


Gale A. Bishop; Co-Director


Kelly Vance; Co-Director


Michael J. Samms; Turtle Technician


Jaynie L. Gaskin; Executive Director & Epidemiologist


Brian K. Meyer; Island Dynamics & Geospacial Expert


Last updated: 12/18/2014