Sea Turtle Field School
Housing on St. Catherines Island limits course participants to 18 participants per year. Participants are selected with preference for fit to their major or career. The students are trained and prepared in a one or two day face-to-face meeting at Georgia Southern University in May or June and during intermittent e-contact and directed study through June and early July. The first full day meeting is used to administer a course pre-test for evaluation purposes and to address any graduate school admission or course credit/PLU registration needs, to prepare the participants for a safe and successful week on St. Catherines Island and to review safety procedures and begin the training and preparation for the Island field work. The fundamentals of sea turtle biology and essential techniques that will be used during the internship are introduced and preparation continues through e-contact until teachers meet on the Island.
Teacher-interns stay in modern cabin that sleep two in single beds, has a modern bathroom, and is air conditioned. (Photograph by Margaret Coomer; 2006)
First Meeting at Georgia Southern
Information on living conditions and routine on St. Catherines Island are discussed and a lecture on island geography is presented in a face-to-face meeting. Students are directed to a copy of the Sea Turtle Interns Handbook (Bishop et al., 2002). Basic safety protocols and the survival skills of being on the beach at any hour, day or night, and in any weather conditions are addressed. Techniques of radio communication between the turtle interns and the Island base station are discussed and demonstrated. Emergency actions and field triage under extreme circumstances or emergencies are also discussed. Learning opportunities and interaction with St. Catherines Foundation staff members, visiting scientists from around the world, and wildlife specialists are described and discussed. The concept and guidelines for a research unit on endangered species are introduced and explained. Faculty members introduce participants to a few of the ways that natural history materials collected on the island can be incorporated into their classroom activities and utilized for life-long learning.
Students are mentored through conservation practices by faculty members as protocols and methods are explained, demonstrated, and then practiced by the teacher-interns.
Field excursions are made as large and small groups to study in the field. Notebooks are kept as a record of observations, photographs and videos are made with actively engaged teachers, and this is integrated with book and electronic learning.
Teachers are introduced to basic Sea Turtle biology and ecology and provided with access to selected books for post-meeting study. Selected field science and conservation protocols and techniques are taught, based on the Nesting Ethogram of Loggerhead Sea Turtles; recognition of turtle crawls, validation of clutches, critical analysis of nesting sites, relocation protocols, and protection of nests from predation by screening. Techniques of scientific documentation to specific DNR requirements, including reporting nest sites and strandings of dead sea turtles are presented. This documentation consists of a daily field notebook kept by each participating intern (Bishop and Marsh, 1995). Note taking techniques are taught and computer-generated data forms to report and summarize data may be produced to introduce each participant to what information needs to be recorded, thus enhancing scientific process skills. During fieldwork, students constantly analyze numerous conditions (tides, weather, equipment problems, strandings, number of crawls, predation) affecting their anticipated schedule. Consequently, the students become adept at field triage, constantly resorting priorities and daily objectives. Critical analysis of problematic situations is parallel to what participants encounter in the classroom — as conditions change, so must their learning objectives, strategies, and methodologies. We feel there is no better place to reinforce this concept.
Field lectures include hosting external groups of learners, such as this class of Envirovets from around the World … allowing sea turtle interns to interact with diverse scientists and conservationists. (Photo by K. A. McCarville).
Participants continue the training and education that began in the first meeting through directed study of Sea Turtle biology and ecology references supplied at the first meeting. Participants communicate on a regular basis with professors and colleague mentors via e-mail and are directed to additional web-based resources. This phase of study enhances understanding of the geologic setting and environmental issues affecting the Sea Turtle nesting grounds. E-mail and digital photography are used to provide students with daily updates on early nesting activity and beach conditions prior to their arrival on the island in July and following their departure. This part of the course marks the beginning of a learning community that will continue to expand as the course progresses.
Throughout the Program each summer updates are distributed via e-mail on a near daily basis to keep the participants and interested partners appraised of the status of the program. Occasional exercises, photographs, or CSI-Sea Turtle Case Files are attached to vary the output.
Ten-Day Internship on St. Catherines Island
Participants spend seven days on the Island monitoring nests on a daily basis. This activity requires POGILTM field teams composed of participants, interns and professors or mentors to drive all terrain vehicles daily along two widely separated beaches with 20 kilometers of nesting habitat on the island, and looking for “crawlways” made as female turtles crawl across the beach to nest. Probable nests are examined and validated to confirm that a turtle did deposit a clutch of eggs. All nests are assessed for being “at risk” or “doomed,’ and are relocated. Nests are protected from predatory feral hogs and Raccoons by covering with plastic screen anchored by four plastic stakes, as mandated by our GaDNR Cooperators Permit. The nests are labeled by placing wooden stakes on the shoreward side of each nest, and marking with the nest number. Nests that are in locations not likely to allow hatching, are moved within twelve hours of deposition (Note: 71% of 2014 nests had to be relocated). Each nest is documented, sketched and/or photographed, located by GPS, and monitored on a daily basis. Clutches hatch after about 60 days. Three to five days after emergence of the hatchlings, hatching success is determined by excavating each nest and counting unhatched and hatched eggs after emergence. Each activity, or nest event observed is sequentially documented by participants in a daily field notebook/journal. These data are transcribed on a daily basis onto the turtle nesting forms, entered in a spreadsheet and a computer map on computers in the Island Ecology Laboratory or conference room.
Formal and Informal Field Presentations on the Island allow content specialists to discuss natural history, human history, coastal geology, coastal ecology and pedagogy in this enriching field environment.
Students may also select to enroll concurrently in GS GEOL 5890 Barrier Island Environmental Geology in which they initiate a hands-on investigation of a field problem concerning St. Catherines Island.
Each participant is photographed in the field as s/he performs daily duties. These images are integrated into a master PowerPoint presentation describing loggerhead sea turtle ecology, sea turtle nesting and hatching, and field techniques needed to document such a scientific project. Each participant is provided with access to this presentation, to be individualized for their own classroom, enhancing each teacher’s self esteem and credibility in the eyes of his/her students and colleagues. The DVDs, “Journey of the Loggerhead™,” and “Cumberland Island; Virtual Field Trip™” are also made available for teachers wishing to teach a unit on endangered species, sea turtles, or scientific methodology in field research. Nesting data accumulated during the summer is distributed at the fall meeting to allow each participant the opportunity utilize the data in class projects or activities.
The teacher-interns practice collaborative learning, critical thinking, peer mentoring … and don’t even realize the teaching and learning going on in the field will be transported into their classroom!
A face-to-face meeting is often held on a Saturday in late September to share digital images and presentations, distribute and discuss the summer nesting data, collect reflective evaluations, and obtain intern feedback to improve the succeeding summer program, administer post-tests and schedule follow-up evaluation.
Our students include graduate students in science programs from around the country; results of Graduate Student-Interns are used in theses and presented at International meetings such as this one in Costa Rica, 2005.
The strategy for transference of content is to encourage self-learning in each student by providing materials to expedite the process, and to initiate the process by demanding a clear set of expected outcomes in the form of behavior and products.
Expected behaviors include common sense, strong motivation, an acute sense of responsibility, an open, questioning attitude free from conflict, and a desire to learn. These attributes are honed by practicing processing skills and constant mentoring in the field.
The products we expect to see include a well-written report, a PowerPoint Poster, and a historical document summarizing St. Catherines rich history, and indigenous species. Students are provided with ample opportunity to collect specimens and observe barrier island natural history, to perform to interact with scientists from around the world, and to use the program’s library of field guidebooks and other literature to immerse themselves in sea turtle conservation and coastal natural history.
An Atlantic shell collection is made by sea turtle interns for use in their classrooms. Note the diversity of materials available including sponges, soft corals, crabs, snails, clams, horseshoe crabs, and many other organisms.
This strategy is further encouraged by demanding each student compile a resource unit and a teaching unit integrating the sea turtle internship content into their classroom curriculum. During 1996, the process was enhanced further by offering a follow-up course to reinforce content and process skills and provide the vehicle for integration of content into specific curricula.
Our hope is that our participants will learn substantial scientific content in a nonthreatening environment, integrate it with scientific process skills working through the scientific methodology, and then transfer both content and processing skills to their classrooms throughout the remainder of their careers.
Last updated: 9/10/2021