I grew up by the sea in England and always had a love of nature, particularly in the marine environment. I distinctly remember being aged 10 and telling my parents that I was going to be a marine biologist when I grew up. I studied a BSc in Ecology at the University of Essex, England, which included a module on tropical coral reef biology based in Indonesia. This is where I fell in love with tropical marine ecology. I also saw how closely connected humans are with the environment but how often people have historically been excluded from conservation decisions. So, in 2015 I moved to Australia to study a MSc in Protected Area Management, which looked closely at how humans impact the environment, how the environment impacts humans, and how best to satisfy the needs of both. This is why my real interest is in bridging the gap between society and the environment. My Bachelor and Masters research both focused on the connection and engagement between conservation and management organisations and the public. This has really made me question the best ways to communicate science and conservation to the world and what is it that drives people’s behaviours or causes them to act a certain way.
2016 was the first time I held a sea turtle and it was an incredibly special moment. I am always so grateful for every interaction I have with these magnificent creatures. I started working with the JCU Turtle Health Research group and that’s where I learnt about turtles, and more interestingly, where I learnt how much scientists still don’t know about them! I also came to realise that turtles are a great link between people and the environment because they’re such enigmatic animals that they are loved by many, as well as being deeply rooted in many different customs and cultures globally. Additionally, their health is closely linked to the health of the environment, so they can be used as a signal for how healthy the environment is. This is what led me to the Conflict Islands and my PhD research where I am working closely with CICI to understand more about their green turtles (Chelonia mydas).
Conservation of the turtles is a huge task that requires a lot of time, effort and money. By researching the turtles from three different angles, the aim is to identify some key areas to focus on. Green turtles always nest in the same area, so by looking at the CI turtle genetics and comparing them to other nearby nesting turtles we can see if CI turtles are part of a larger family or if they are their own distinct group. This tells us the scale needed for conservation management. Also, beaches need to have certain qualities to make them suitable for turtles to nest on, such as what they’re made from (there’s different types of sand and beaches). By knowing the most suitable nesting areas throughout the islands, monitoring can be more focused – 21 is a lot of islands to patrol! Finally, conservation is funded by tourism and the interest of the public in supporting the turtles and other marine life on the surrounding islands. These turtles and this marine life are vital for supporting nearby island communities who rely on fishing for their food. The CICI rangers and staff are hugely committed to looking after their marine life and so the third angle of my research will be to identify ways to increase tourist engagement for the benefit of the turtles and, ultimately, the local marine ecosystem, including the people dependent on it.