Anatomy of a successful sea turtle conservation education program

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

In 1993, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) established the Sea Turtle Survival League program to begin directly engaging in issues affecting marine turtles in the United States. This permanent program complements CCC’s ongoing research and conservation projects overseas and capitalizes on over three decades of experience in marine conservation and advocacy. The STSL’s mission is to improve the survival outlook for sea turtles in the U.S., primarily in Florida, by reducing human-caused threats and preserving nesting beaches and critical marine habitats. In keeping with the generally-accepted notion that education and public awareness are key to the protection and eventual recovery of sea turtles, last year the Sea Turtle Survival League tried something new by organizing and nationally promoting an education program directed at school children in the U.S. The idea was to use the satellite tracking of sea turtles as a hook to get kids interested in learning more about the species and the various threats they face. The STSL also hoped to turn their interest into action–by encouraging students to write letters and speak out in defense of marine turtles.

The STSL decided the most efficient way to reach numerous students at once would be through a home page on the internet that teachers and students would utilize at school. An increasing number of schools, especially in the U.S., are getting access to the internet and using the World Wide Web as an educational tool. The Sea Turtle Migration- Tracking Education Program was created to capitalize on that trend. Once the STSL designed a graphics-oriented web page and filled it with virtually everything a kid might want to know about sea turtles and their conservation, the next step was to entice students and teachers to begin using the resource.

During a pilot project two years ago, the STSL recognized that many people, especially children, are fascinated by satellite telemetry. There is just something about being able to monitor the movements of an animal as it migrates to far off places that captivates people’s imaginations. We were very fortunate that Barbara Schroeder (formerly with the Florida Marine Research Institute) and Dr. Llew Ehrhart (University of Central Florida) were willing to let the STSL use data from their ongoing telemetry research to plot the movements of the four turtles on digital maps that could be accessed by anyone visiting the STSL’s web page. Since 1994, Schroeder and Dr. Ehrhart have been tracking the migration of green turtles after they nest in the Archie Carr Refuge on Florida’s central east coast.

To generate public awareness about the new education program, the STSL turned the release of one of the study turtles into a publicity event that generated news coverage all over the country. A number of TV stations in Florida covered the event and national media, including CNN, ran the story for days afterwards. The League also convinced Florida’s Commissioner of Education, Frank Brogan, to come to the turtle’s release and promote the education program. The Commissioner had been very supportive of using the internet as an educational tool and agreed to link the State’s education resource home page to the STSL home page. All of the media coverage helped the STSL to reach the desired audience with news about the program.

Shortly after the well-publicized release of the turtle, the STSL was contacted by the Turner Network and asked to discuss the program on a series of live educational shows, which were broadcast directly into participating schools. Through these shows alone, the STSL was able to reach approximately 250,000 teachers and students with information about sea turtles and threats to their survival. This exposure also attracted numerous teachers and students to the STSL home page, where they could “watch” the migrating turtles and learn even more about the species.

When people first link to the STSL home page, they are given a menu of items to choose from. They can link to a section with background information on sea turtle biology and life history; they can access a biography on Archie Carr; they can learn all about the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge; or they can go directly to the section covering satellite telemetry. It is here that maps are available showing the updated movements of each of the four turtles being tracked. The STSL web address is

The web site also allowed teachers to submit a form requesting a free 40-page Educator’s Guide. The Guide gave instructions on how best to incorporate the program into the classroom and included student handouts and ideas for classroom activities. The Guide also included timely suggestions on how students could help sea turtles by making their voices heard on current issues.

After about six months of promoting the program, well over 1,000 teachers were participating. This translates into approximately 70,000 students reached. Many classes began letter writing campaigns on timely sea turtle issues. Two issues that students seemed particularly concerned about were the impacts of shrimping on turtles and the loss of habitat in the Archie Carr Refuge.

Before the program began, the STSL anticipated that students would have lots of questions regarding sea turtles or satellite telemetry. To handle these questions, an interactive bulletin board was created on the web page. It was here that students could post their questions. Either Barbara Schroeder or staff with the STSL would post the answers. Hundreds of questions were eventually received and answered.

In conclusion, the STSL’s Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Education Program helped many children learn about marine turtles. People’s fascination with satellite telemetry, combined with the ability of the internet to instantly deliver information to the classroom, helped make this program very successful. The STSL plans to conduct the program again and invites the participation of other researchers who may be conducting satellite telemetry studies.

The STSL would like to acknowledge the following financial supporters of the education program: The Educational Foundation of America, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Snapper, Inc. We also want to thank Barbara Schroeder and Dr. Llew Ehrhart for allowing their data to be used in the program. And we thank Andrea Mosier (FL Marine Research Institute) for generating the maps depicting the turtles’ movements.

Abstract of paper presented at 18th International Symposium, 1998