top of page

East Coast Biologists Commitment to Marine Conservation

Meet the East Coast Biologists

The East Coast Biologists have been conducting research on sea turtles, artificial reefs, and nurse sharks off central Florida's east coast since 2003. They are permitted by NOAA Fisheries and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Their mission is to preserve marine life through scientific research, rescue missions, and by educating the public.

We recently had the immense pleasure of speaking with the ECB's Executive Director and Senior Biologist, Dr. Karen Holloway-Adkins, Ph.D., for a discussion on the organization’s long-term goals, different ways they raise awareness for marine life, and the challenges they’re currently facing. 

Who or what inspired the founding of the East Coast Biologists?

We sought to learn more about the juvenile and subadult life stage of turtles that use nearshore reefs, especially in areas where habitat is potentially threatened by the activities of beach nourishment. We wanted to first bring awareness that immature sea turtles and other marine life use the reefs adjacent to developed shorelines. Second, we wanted to “mind sea turtles business”. In other words, are turtles using these areas or just transiting through? What are they eating? Where are they sleeping or resting? If they stay - how long do they stay or where do they go if they leave the area? Are they genetically similar to the sea turtles in adjacent habitats or does their stock/origin differ?

We created the non-profit to seek funding to answer these questions and more about marine life; to educate and conserve. Along our journey we have had unexpected surprises. One of them is the presence of juvenile nurse sharks on nearshore artificial reefs. Recently, the nurse shark’s status has changed from “data deficit” to “vulnerable” (IUCN). Currently, there are no genetic data on nurse sharks in the east central Florida region that would tell us their origin and no data concerning the juvenile size class of nurse sharks in this area. With others, we plan to fill that knowledge gap.

How does your organization raise awareness about sea turtle and nurse shark conservation and engage the local community? 

We engage others one-on-one when we are in the field and people ask us questions. We also give presentations at events, schools, and have booth exhibitions at local events. We write reports, journal publications, and, recently, I co-authored a book about the nearshore reefs in east central Florida (Daniel A. McCarthy Kenyon C. Lindeman David B. Snyder Karen G. Holloway-Adkins 2020; Islands in the Sand: Ecology and Management of Nearshore Hardbottom Reefs of East Florida).

We use social media to inform and educate others about our research and to encourage learning more about our marine environment and the creatures that inhabit it, including how to protect and conserve this vital resource.

By joining with other researchers, we are able to expand our conservation impact and our collective knowledge helps agencies charged with making sensitive decisions that influence the health and preservation of natural resources such as seagrasses in our lagoon and nearshore reefs that multiple organisms depend on.

What are the main challenges ECB faces in achieving its goals?

Funding for nurse shark research has been difficult to obtain. We work primarily in an area where there has been little study since the visibility is generally poor. The nearshore reefs are dynamic and high-energy. Ocean conditions are rough much of the time.

How do you fundraise and gather support for your projects?

Research projects have been funded through the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program and National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation. Smaller donations from individuals have always been greatly appreciated as it all helps our cause. We also provide inwater sea turtle monitoring for local governments that are in alignment with our research and mission objectives. We are seeking funding through PADI Aware Program and Save Our Sea Foundation for future nurse shark tagging and tracking research projects.

Looking ahead, what are your long-term goals and aspirations for the ECB? 

We aspire to inspire the next generation of researchers and educators to protect our natural resources. Some of our specific goals include seeing impacts from development minimized on natural nearshore reef habitats. Where mitigation is necessary, we want to continue to support the careful design and planning of artificial reefs and monitor their benefits to multiple organisms and their ability to mitigate for functions lost by nearshore reef burial.

Currently, we have a publication in progress on juvenile green turtle foraging aggregations on the east coast of Florida. This is an exciting collaboration among multiple researchers in Florida that have contributed to our current knowledge on the abundance, distribution, habitat characteristics of a life stage that has received little-study due to the challenge of inwater research. The publication will also detail the size distribution of immature green turtles in different habitat-types and the occurrence of fibropapillomatosis (FP) among juvenile green turtle populations. These data will help researchers and rehabilitation facilities understand what environmental factors that promote FP which can be debilitating and, in some cases, a lethal disease for sea turtles. 

How can people contribute or donate to the ECB?

If you would like to support the ECB’s scientific research and education activities please click here to donate. You can also visit their website to learn more about their incredible research and rescue efforts. 


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page