The School for Field Studies (SFS) Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) was recently awarded a $10,000 grant from The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation. This is the second installment of a two-year grant that supports the ongoing study of climate change impacts on the nesting turtle population of the TCI.
“We are thrilled that SFS has obtained funding to continue the important work they are carrying out,” said Kathleen Wood, Director of the TCI Department of Environmental and Maritime Affairs (DEMA). “TCI is currently in the process of implementing new legislation to allow for better management of turtle populations, including protection for breeding adults. The continued monitoring of nesting areas within TCI for turtle populations is critical to the on-going sustainable management of these vulnerable populations and to assess the effects that revised legislation will have,” she said.
The waters of the TCI support regionally significant foraging aggregations of green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles, and, to a lesser extent, loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). Studies have predicted that climate change will have real and direct impacts for sea turtle populations by altering both nesting habitat and sex ratio of hatchlings. In the first year of the grant, staff and students at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies began monitoring nine beaches frequented by nesting turtles and measuring beach profiles to examine changes in erosion and accretion patterns, beach area, and temperature.
The two-year grant from the Munson Foundation has benefited the TCI by providing data and understanding of how global changes affect the local environment. Additionally, the Center is working with Island communities to increase their understanding of the environment through the application of science and scientific data analysis, and to help develop communications between local groups, researchers, and policy makers. Continued support for long-term data collection is critically important and beneficial to these stakeholders as they undertake marine turtle management and conservation, notes SFS Center Director Dr. Heidi Hertler.
The extension of the grant also allows for U.S. undergraduate students on SFS’s program in TCI to continue engaging in field-based climate change research. This is both a rare opportunity and a valuable learning experience.
“To many people, climate change is merely an abstraction,” said SFS President Dr. James Cramer. “To our students involved in assessing its impact on threatened marine species, climate change is a significant ongoing process with major implications not only for nesting turtles, but for an important ecosystem and its capacity to maintain a level of biodiversity essential for sustaining a rich array of marine life and the people the depend on it. This is real world science at its best.”