We are excited to announce that Cape Eleuthera Institute has been awarded a grant from the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) as a part of the Fund’s focus on reversing the decline of at-risk wildlife around the world. The conservation grant recognizes Cape Eleuthera Institute’s work to promote the connection between people and the environment by studying island ecosystems and educating people about conservation in The Bahamas.

The Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team has strived to share the conservation implications of their research findings and current management strategies in The Bahamas through outreach. With support from the DCF, the Cape Eleuthera Institute has been reaching out to the community by meeting with local students this spring and leading interactive presentations regarding sea turtle biology, the threats they are facing, and management strategies. Through discussion, the team can assess the awareness of and attitudes towards the sea turtle harvest ban, quantify the level of sea turtle ecology knowledge, and discuss research and conservation efforts to protect these threatened marine reptiles in The Bahamas.

Meagan Gary and Chelsea Begnaud after their presentation at North Eleuthera High School.

Meagan Gary and Chelsea Begnaud after their presentation at North Eleuthera High School.

The shallow coastal waters of The Bahamas produce ideal foraging grounds for green, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles in their juvenile stages. All three sea turtle species found in The Bahamas are listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to severe population declines and substantial threats. In 2009, The Bahamas became one of the only countries in the Caribbean to institute a sea turtle ban when the Ministry of Agriculture & Marine Resources passed legislation offering full protection to all sea turtles in Bahamian waters. The law forbids the harvest, possession, purchase, and sale of all turtles and turtle products. While The Bahamas should be applauded for their progress in sea turtle conservation, the high ocean to land ratio and fragmentation that comes with trying to inform and monitor 700 islands leads to difficulties in both regulation of the ban and the principle awareness of the existing laws. Through their outreach findings, the team discovered that while some students displayed knowledge of existing protection for sea turtles, less than one percent of nearly 800 students could identify the specific law behind the ban.

The Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team’s local school outreach is part of the Cape Eleuthera Institute’s effort to foster a relationship with Eleutheran residents in order to understand preexisting knowledge and perceptions regarding conservation to better serve the community. The team has visited 18 public schools and students learned about the sea turtles of The Bahamas, the importance of the sea turtle harvest ban, and how they can protect sea turtles by adjusting their daily habits and getting involved in local opportunities. The ensuing trivia games had students from grades 1 through 12 leaping out of their seats to have their answers heard. They discovered that sea turtles can enhance human lives through maintenance of seagrass beds and coral reefs that serve as habitats for commercially important seafood and as coastal barriers to protect against the damaging effects of hurricanes.

A student from Deep Creek Middle School assisting with the turtle workup.

A student from Deep Creek Middle School assisting with the turtle workup.

The school visits were a unique and rewarding experience for the team to travel outside of Southern Eleuthera and see how the love for sea turtles extends to the farthest reaches of the island. Visits extended as far north as Harbour Island and Current Island! Because of their outreach efforts, more people know of the sea turtle ban and why it is important. Students were encouraged to promote environmentally responsible behavior and assume leadership roles as “Sea Turtle Ambassadors” in their own communities. The seven members of the team are not able to offer all the protection that sea turtles need and they hope that the students and their teachers will share their appreciation for the local marine environment and support the need to protect it.

Jess Rudd teaches students at Current Island all-age school.

Jess Rudd teaches students at Current Island all-age school.

This summer the Sea Turtle team will be teaming up with the Bahamas National Trust to assist in their Discovery Club camps and spread the sea turtle conservation message further. We are also excited to announce the first ever Sea Turtle Camp for Bahamian students at CEI this summer!

The Disney Conservation Fund focuses on reversing the decline of wildlife and increasing the time kids spend in nature. Since its inception in 1995, the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) has granted more than $65 million to projects that help protect the planet and animals in 115 countries around the world. Projects were selected to receive awards based on their efforts to study wildlife, protect habitats and develop community conservation and education programs in critical ecosystems around the world.

For information on Disney’s commitment to conserve nature and a complete list of grant recipients, visit ww.disney.com/conservation.