Image courtesy Michelle Pratt

‘Ground-breaking’ turtle study nets award for Tom

Unique research into endangered sea turtles, which will lead to a Caribbean government changing its conservation policy, has seen a student from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus recognised in a national competition.

Tom Stringell, who recently completed his PhD in Biosciences, came runner up in the prestigious P1 Marine Foundation National Student Awards 2013 for his work in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), a UK Overseas Territory in the Caribbean.

Tom used a multitude of scientific techniques including satellite tracking, stable isotope and genetic analyses, habitat surveys and fishery observations to explore the population dynamics and ecology of the endangered green turtle and the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

His work confirmed both the importance of legal marine turtle fisheries to the communities on the islands, and the need for improved marine management and changes to legislation.

Following close work with the fishing community, the work established support for a change in conservation measures. The government on the Islands is now implementing new legislation, including the introduction of maximum size limits and a closed season on the capture of hawksbill turtles during the lobster fishing season.

Tom, from Bangor in Wales, said: “I’m delighted to have received this prize for my work, which is unique in the Caribbean because it puts the fishing community at the centre of conservation measures. It gives me a great sense of achievement that the outcomes will have a positive impact on the conservation of endangered marine turtles in the Atlantic and the people that rely on them for food. This work wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of the many fishermen and the support of a great team in TCI.”

His £500 prize will be used to attend the 35th International Sea Turtle Society Symposium to present some of this work, and fund more satellite tracking.

Tom carried out his PhD at Penryn under the supervision of Dr Annette Broderick, Professor Brendan Godley and Professor Charles Tyler of the University of Exeter and Dr Peter Richardson of the Marine Conservation Society and in collaboration with the TCI Government’s Department for Environment and Maritime Affairs.

Dr Broderick said: “We’re absolutely thrilled for Tom, who thoroughly deserves this prize. His research establishes and proposes practical solutions that are based on empirical evidence, are original in scope and have a ground-breaking research approach in Caribbean marine turtle fisheries.”

Tom’s work was part of a Marine Conservation Society led conservation project

Visit the P1 Marine Foundation website for more information.

Date: 14 February 2014

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