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Cynthia Jones is Member of National Committee Releasing Sea Turtle Report

Cynthia Jones

Cynthia Jones, eminent scholar and professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences at Old Dominion University, is one of nine scientists on a National Research Council committee that released a report this month outlining ways to better manage and conserve the at-risk sea turtle populations in U.S. waters.

Very little data exists about sea turtles, making it difficult for scientists to determine population sizes and to gauge the success of measures taken to protect the populations, according to the report, which is titled "Assessment of Sea Turtle Status and Trends: Integrating Demography and Abundance."

Committee members called for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to develop a national plan that would assess sea turtle populations, improve the coordination of collecting and sharing data about the turtles, and include external reviews of data and models used to estimate and predict the turtle populations.

Jones, who directs ODU's Center for Quantitative Fisheries Ecology, was recruited by the Research Council to serve on the committee together with eight other marine biologists and oceanographers. The chair is Karen Bjorndal, who leads the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida.

Last year, Jones was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) "for distinguished contributions in marine fisheries ecology, especially development of analytical tools to evaluate stock structure, population dynamics and life-history strategies." She received the Virginia Outstanding Scientist Award in 2003, the Virginia Professor of the Year award in 2004 from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award in 2005 from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

The Research Council report came in response to a request from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the council provide recommendations about sea turtle management. NOAA oversees the NMFS, which is responsible for management of sea turtles in the water. The FWS is responsible for management on land.

"All six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as endangered or threatened, but the exact population sizes of these species are unknown due to a lack of key information regarding birth and survival rates," states the report's summary. (The report is at http://national-academies.org/.) "The U.S. Endangered Species Act prohibits the hunting of sea turtles and reduces incidental losses from activities such as shrimp trawling and development on beaches used for nesting. However, current monitoring does not provide enough information on sea turtle populations to evaluate the effectiveness of these protective measures."

Long lifespans and wide-ranging migrations over different habitats make sea turtles difficult to monitor, the report emphasized. Current sea turtle assessments in the United States are based heavily on estimates of adult females at nesting beaches, which are inadequate measures to make population assessments because adult females usually skip one or more breeding seasons, and nest counts provide no information on the number of immature turtles, adult males and nonbreeding females.

The Research Council, part of the National Academies, recruits research committee members for each study it undertakes. The members are chosen based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the National Academies conflict-of-interest standards.

This article was posted on: July 16, 2010

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