Marine biology student spends summer saving turtles at Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Fri, 06/24/2011 - 3:45pm
Erin Thomas

By Kate Imwalle ’12

The Dauphin Island Sea Lab is recognized both regionally and nationally as a marine sciences institution of growing academic and research distinction. During the summer, the Sea Lab holds courses for both graduate as well as undergraduate students ranging from Shark and Ray Biology to Hurricanes of the Gulf Coast.

Erin Thomas ’12, a marine biology student at Spring Hill College, participated in the summer program at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. In order to complete upper-level marine biology courses as well as to gain hands-on experience, Thomas took three courses at the Sea Lab. Of the three classes she took, Biology and the Conservation of Marine Turtles were most memorable.

Dr. Thane Wibbels, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an activist working to save the Diamondback Terrapin population in Cedar Point Marsh, taught the class on marine turtles. “His passion for this subject got everyone in the class highly involved in the conservation process of marine turtles,” Thomas said.

During the first week of the course, the students had lectures and fieldwork pertaining to the conservation of the Diamondback Terrapins. They worked in Cedar Point marsh collecting eggs to hold in captivity until the young turtles were able to survive on their own. Previously, raccoons were eating the eggs and were threatening the turtle population.

The highlight of the two-week course was the trip to various beaches in Florida to observe sea turtles in their natural habitat. In the Florida Keys, the students were able to catch a glimpse of a Hawksbill sea turtle. They also visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key where turtles were being rehabbed from injuries, many caused by boats as well as littering of plastics. In Juno Beach, Fla., Thomas waited all night on the beach to see turtles nesting.

Thomas found most surprising how many of the turtles were injured by human carelessness. She said, “It was shocking to see that almost every turtle in the Turtle Hospital, Mote Marine Lab and Loggerhead Marine Life Center was injured because of human causes.”

Thomas has found her time at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab extremely valuable. “I feel as though the hands-on nature of the classes at the Sea Lab has giving me a unique experience and it will help me further my education,” she said. With her marine biology degree from Spring Hill she hopes to go to graduate school and focus on either conservation biology or marine ecosystem sustainability.

The Alabama State Legislature formed the Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium in 1971 in order to limit duplication of facilities and programs related to marine sciences at Alabama’s largest colleges and universities. Now composed of 22 colleges and universities, Spring Hill College included, it is commonly referred to as the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

Kate Imwalle is an intern in the Office of Communications and Institutional Marketing at Spring Hill College.