Episode 42 – Turtle Tales

In this episode, the students in the Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles travel class document their trip to Culerbra, Puerto Rico, and St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands in a kind of ‘travel diary’. Reflecting on what they did, who they met, and how they felt, the students effectively capture the very essence of travel courses and the heady combination of experiential learning and personal development. Part of our Sea Turtles series.

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Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles, class of 2023

Class members group shot

View from lighthouse, west end of St. Croix. L to R: Jessica Ozog, Erika Kraabel, Chloe Jordan, Joshua Meza-Fidalgo, Michael Vrbanac, Britney Pepper, Rachel Hilt, India Mackinson, Julia Plasynski, Kaylee McKinzie 

Student Biographies

Rachel Hilt (MEM, 2023) has a degree specialization in Coastal Environmental Management (CEM) and has an interest in protected species management and critical habitats with a focus on marine mammals and sea turtles.  



Chloe Jordan is a junior at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and is working on getting her degree in Environmental Science and Marine Biology. She came to the Duke University Marine Lab for her spring semester so she could get some field work experience and hands-on opportunities. She’s interested in going into rescue for both marine and terrestrial wildlife, so taking the biology and conservation of sea turtles travel course was important to her. Chloe had an incredible experience at the marine lab and is excited to continue to work towards her future filled with wildlife! 

IG: chloe.jordannn  


Erika Kraabel is a sophomore at Duke majoring in biology with a minor in evolutionary anthropology. She is a Rachel Carson scholar and has spent this past semester working on an independent research project on fin whale morphometrics. 


India Mackinson (MEM, 2023) is specializing in coastal environmental management at the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment. While at Duke, she has worked with the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability, and the Nicholas School Communications Studio. As a lifelong resident of the Carolinas, she studies climate change’s impact on coastal communities in the Southeast, including its sea turtles.   


Kaylee McKinzie is a second-year undergraduate at Duke University. Kaylee is taking the Conservation of Sea Turtles class because her favorite marine animal is the leatherback sea turtle, and wants to take part in preserving the species!    


Joshua Meza-Fidalgo (MEM 2023) came to Duke to study marine mammals after spending seven years in the whale watching industry. Having just completed his master’s project, “Foraging with Trawlers May Blur the Boundaries Between Estuarine and Coastal Stocks of Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) off South Carolina,” Josh is excited for the next steps in building a career in cetacean research and conservation. He’s also looking forward to a little time off so he can catch up on quality time with his wife and dog, reading for pleasure, and wildlife photography. 

IG: duke_s_whale_nerd 



Jess Ozog (MEM 2023) is a recently graduated Coastal Environmental Management student at Duke University. Her focus has been on the management and conservation of marine mammals, specifically on data analytics and geospatial analysis. Prior to starting at Duke, she worked as a technician for the National Park Service in Texas conducting nesting surveys for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.  



Britney Pepper (MEM 2023) has recently earned her Master of Environmental Management (Coastal Environmental Management) degree from Duke University in 2023. She is a marine mammal ecologist and focuses her research on cetacean bioacoustics. Britney is interested in understanding how anthropogenic noises impact marine mammals.  



Julia Plasynski (MEM 2023) is an Ecosystem Science and Conservation Environmental Management Master’s student at Duke University and has a background in biology, conservation genomics, and environmental policy. Her professional interests include endangered species conservation, climate change mitigation, and science communications. She loves field work, sea turtles, and being outdoors, so this course quickly became one of her favorite memories at Duke! 

Instagram: @juliasfootsteps 

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/juliaplasynski/ 


Michael Vrbanac is an undergrad at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio and is interested in pursuing a career in sea turtle conservation. 

Instructor Biographies

Matthew Godfrey is a wildlife biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. He is also adjunct faculty at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University (Marine Lab) and the Department of Clinical Sciences of the College of Veterinary Medicine at NCSU. He has worked on sea turtle biology and conservation issues for several decades.  


Kelly Stewart is a research scientist with the Ocean Foundation and is adjunct faculty at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University (Marine Lab). Kelly collaborates widely with various groups on research related to sea turtle ecology and conservation, and is passionate about contributing to training and mentoring of students who collaborate on different research projects.  


episode flyer with photo of class and of nesting leatherback and travel related graphics

Supplemental material for this episode