Turtles in Cyberspace: the Successful Melding of Science, Education and the Internet

Daniel R. Evans and David B. Godfrey
Caribbean Conservation Corporation, 4424 NW 13th Street, Suite A-1, Gainesville, FL 32609, U.S.A.

Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) is a Gainesville, Florida based non-profit organization dedicated to the study and protection of sea turtles and their habitats throughout the Caribbean. CCC was founded in 1959 to support the pioneering work Dr. Archie Carr. In 1993, CCC established the Sea Turtle Survival League (STSL) program to begin directly engaging in issues affecting marine turtles in the U.S. The program complements CCC’s four decades of experience in research and conservation. STSL’s mission is to improve the survival outlook for sea turtles in the US, especially in Florida, through education and advocacy.

In 1996, STSL decided that the most efficient way to reach numerous students at once would be through a web site on the very new and interesting Internet. The site could be utilized by the ever increasing number of teachers and students gaining access to the World Wide Web as schools began to realize the possibilities of the WWW as an educational tool.

The web site cccturtle.org went online in March of 1996. This graphics oriented web site is filled with all types of information that students and teachers might want to know about sea turtles and their conservation. And even though the Internet was young and every site was attracting some kind of attention just because it was there, STSL wanted to encourage teachers and students to begin using the site as a fun and interesting resource.

The Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Education Program was created to become an educational program using cutting edge research, easy to understand information and the Internet to raise awareness about sea turtles and the threats to their survival. The Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Education Program, one of the most successful educational tools, continues to grow both in content and popularity. The program uses the research of the migration routes of sea turtles by satellite-tracking as a hook for getting students and others interested in learning about sea turtles.

In the first year of the web based education program, CCC partnered with Barbara Schroeder and Dr. Llew Ehrhart who were continuing their effort to track the migration of green turtles after nesting in the Archie Carr Refuge on Florida’s east coast. Schroeder and Ehrhart were very generous in letting STSL use the location data to plot the movements of four green turtles on digital maps, created by Andrea Mosier, that could be accessed by visitors to the STSL web site.

Along with the information and maps on the web site, educators were able to request a free 40 page Educator’s Resource Guide. The Guide helped teachers incorporate the program into their classroom with activities and handouts that could be used to help teach their students about sea turtle research, biology and conservation. In the last year, the Guide was expanded to include information on coastal habitats, full lesson plans and new activities.

The class room activities in the Guide include drawing the outline of the different sea turtle species to compare the length of the turtle with the height of the students, seeing how many students it took to weigh the same as a leatherback and how many students could fit into the outlined shape of a leatherback. The sea turtle outlines could then be colored close to their natural color. Other activities include writing stories about turtles, using data to determine distance traveled by the turtle, dividing into user groups and having debates on different controversial topics related to sea turtles, a cooperative learning lesson, sea turtle pictionary as well as worksheets that could be photocopied.

The program helps educators incorporate the web site and activities into their classroom. Students can follow the movements of the turtles during the course of a project. Student can plot the movements themselves using a set of data points and downloadable maps. There are interactive games and puzzles for students to have fun while learning. Teachers can have their students test their knowledge with STSL’s online quizzes.

In addition to the tracking maps and educational material, the web site provide electronic bulletin boards so that students and teaches could post questions about the program for either the researchers or STSL staff to answer. Between both boards, several thousand questions and comments with responses have been posted.

Since that first year, the program has grown in popularity and complexity. The success of the program can be seen in the number of visitors and the number of educator’s using the program. To date, web site has received nearly two and a half million hits and currently averages over 3,000 hits a day. The education program has reached more than 8,000 educators from over 30 countries, representing about 240,000 students.

Because the program takes pure scientific research, that is generally not available to or is unknown to the public, melds it with eye-catching graphics, maps and educational materials, and provides the information to people worldwide through the inexpensive medium of the Internet the STSL education program has become a model for similar web sites world wide. The program is a great model because it can reach a very large and diverse audience, web sites can be very inexpensive to set up, maintain and promote, uses the Internet, which continues to become more and more popular and accessible, it is an interactive way to get students interested in sea turtles and conservation, activities cross curriculums for both level of study and subject, and it accomplishes the goal of creating turtle advocates who are more aware of the issues.

As the program finishes its fourth year, the education program has worked with 12 different projects following the movement of 52 sea turtles representing four species. The website has received much recognition from groups such as the 21st Century Teachers Network, CNN, Yahoo, and the National Science Teachers Association. But in addition to teachers, the program has received the greatest recognition from other sea turtle groups worldwide. In the past couple of years the Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Education Program has been used as a model by sea turtle groups who are adding a satellite tracking education program to their websites and making sea turtle research more available, interesting and understandable to the public while increasing support for sea turtle conservation.

We would like to thank researchers Barbara Schroeder (NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service), Dr. Llew Ehrhart, Dean Bagley and the other students at the University of Central Florida, Dr. Anne Meylan (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-Florida Marine Research Institute), Dr. Peter Meylan (Eckerd College), Dr. Wallace J. Nichols (California Academy of Science), Dr. Dave Nelson (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Waterways Experiment Station), Emma Hickerson (Texas A&M University and Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary), Sally Murphy (South Carolina Department of Natural Resources), Sandy MacPherson (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and Allen Foley (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-Florida Marine Research Institute). STSL would also like to thank the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Conservation Education Foundation, The Educational Foundation of America, The Elizabeth Ordway Dunn Foundation, the Florida Advisory Council on Environmental Education, the Kenneth Scott Foundation, and Project AWARE for providing supported for the Sea Turtle Mirgration-Tracking Education Program.

Abstract of paper presented at 20th International Symposium, 2000