Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biological and Environmental Sciences


Natural Resources Science

First Advisor

Nancy Karraker


Over 40 years of conservation efforts have led to increases in sea turtle populations, but all species found in U.S. waters are still at risk of extinction. While the contributions of such programs like the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network and bi-national Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Restoration and Enhancement Program have rescued and rehabilitated stranded sea turtles, and protected sea turtles and their nests, there are still substantial knowledge gaps that could significantly enhance current conservation programs protecting the most imperiled sea turtle species - Kemp’s ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii).

Manuscript 1 is an overview of the efforts to conserve Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in the United States and previous research on hypothermic stunning. We have summarized the ecological role of sea turtles, threats to populations, and previous research on sea turtle hypothermic stunning (cold-stunning) - the largest threat to Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in New England. From this information, we have identified knowledge gaps that may be hindering the efficiency of conservation programs in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and offer recommendations for future research.

Manuscript 2 details the development of a new sea turtle-shaped oceanic drifter - floating objects used to study currents - used to investigate the relationship between currents in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts and sea turtles that have sunk to the bottom after hypothermic stunning. This new drifter, dubbed the “sea turtle bottom drifter”, was deployed along with several other drifter designs to measure currents at different depths, including the Davis-style drifter (Davis, 1985), a sea turtle-shaped “surface” drifter (like those used in Santos et al., 2018), and a miniature sailboat. We found marked difference between the effects of currents on the different drifter designs, signaling that we are one step closer to understanding sea turtle drift trajectories in Cape Cod Bay.

Finally, Manuscript 3 highlights the importance of including educational outreach and public engagement in STEM research. As a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, I was tasked to consider how my research could have “Broader Impacts” on my community - how I could facilitate engagement with my research to increase scientific literacy and promote a more diverse workforce. Targeting at-risk youth, who are often overlooked for opportunities to participate in scientific field research, I set out to create a hands-on engagement project centered on the research discussed in Manuscript 2. Throughout the drifter field seasons (October-December 2018 and 2019), participants contributed to various aspects of the project that were best suited to their skill levels and interests to helped build, decorate, deploy, monitor the trajectories, and recover the drifters while learning about their contributions to sea turtle conservation. The outreach engaged over 200 community members, including at-risk youth, local students, Sea Turtle Stranding Network volunteers, teachers, and program coordinators.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Available for download on Monday, January 19, 2026