The BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career researchers who excel at communicating the importance and impact of their research beyond their discipline. Nominees were asked to provide a 250-word plain-language summary of their research which responded to the question: "How do the results of your work apply across disciplines and to the public?" Responses were judged for their relevance and clarity. Read below to read Dr. Wood's winning summary, and learn more about his research.
Home Is Where the Heart Is:
The Hawksbill Turtles of Palm Beach
“It’s 10:00 PM. Do you know where your turtles are?” Unusual question, but how fortunate I am to be asked! Interestingly, many folks harbor a fondness for turtles, especially sea turtles, that isn’t extended to much of the rest of the reptile world. This twist of fate has helped them become inspirational characters in the global effort to affect marine conservation.
On Florida’s east coast, sea turtle nests (often conspicuously roped off with stakes and caution tape) are as familiar to the locals as surfboards and sandcastles. People genuinely care about them, and many communities have become inspired to make their beaches as ‘turtle friendly’ as possible to encourage their return.
In contrast, the young hawksbill sea turtles I study don’t come ashore, instead they inhabit Florida’s coral reefs. Reefs are fragile, diverse, and important to both ecologies and economies, but difficult to protect. From diving, I suspected hawksbill sea turtles reside there. By tracking them with satellite transmitters, I found I could not only peer into their mysterious daily lives, but also reveal this place as their home, and maybe, just like the beach, help justify its safekeeping.
What did we find? Among many other things, we confirmed that the turtles do reside there, and, by the way, are safely asleep in their favorite underwater caves every night by ten. Have we permanently saved their home? Not yet, but we’re proud to make our contribution, and history shows that familiarity leads to empathy, one step at a time.
This summary was in reference to:
Home Range and Movement Patterns of Subadult Hawksbill Sea Turtles in Southeast Florida. Journal of Herpetology 51(1):58-67. 2017. Lawrence D. Wood, Barbara Brunnick, and Sarah L. Milton.
Funding for this research was provided by through Florida Atlantic University, the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate Grants Program (administered by the Sea Turtle Conservancy), the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, and private donors to the Palm Beach Zoo.
Dr. Larry Wood
Nominated by The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
Dr. Larry Wood has been working with sea turtles for nearly 30 years. His lifelong interest in reptiles brought him from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania to Juno Beach Florida, where he undertook sea turtle nesting surveys, helped develop a sea turtle rehabilitation facility, and created a variety of public awareness and marine education programs. In 2004, he established the Comprehensive Florida Hawksbill Research and Conservation Program (a.k.a. The Florida Hawksbill Project), which is the first and only long-term study of hawksbill sea turtles in Florida. Dr. Wood has contributed to sea turtle conservation in many ways in Florida and elsewhere through his publications, contributions to symposia, and student/volunteer mentorship. He is currently pursuing his research and public education interests with the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
What drew you to your current research field?
A vacation to South Florida as a young college student resulted in a career with sea turtles, and later local scuba diving inspired me to study hawksbills.
Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?
Early in my career Dr. Peter Pritchard, early in my hawksbill research Dr. Anne Meylan, more recently Dr. Terry Maple.
What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?
We share our oceans with their inhabitants. Our futures depend on one another.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?
Be persistent in your interests and surround yourself with supportive, positive people. Respectfully and courteously disregard those who might stand in your way.