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Saving Sea Turtles in the Ogasawara Islands

Saving Sea Turtles in the Ogasawara Islands

A passion for marine biology leads College of the Atlantic student Grace Caltabiano ’19 on two internships to Japan’s “Galápagos of the Orient,” where she joins efforts to protect endangered green sea turtles.

BY NGAWANG CHHOEDRON ’20

Caltabiano finds inspiration in the creatures of the sea, and at Ogasawara Marine Centre she found kindred spirits, natural beauty, and opportunities to put her academic studies into practice.  

The organization works to conserve green sea turtles, also known as Pacific sea turtles, of which there are only 85,000 to 90,000 nesting females left in the world. Over the course of two, three-monthinternships, Caltabiano collected dozens of eggs from area beaches and transported them to the Centre, where they were to be artificially hatched. After six months of feeding, the turtles would be released back into the wild, increasing their chances of survival.

“I want to keep doing science in crazy locations because that's what makes me happy” -Grace Caltabiano '19.

“I want to keep doing science in crazy locations because that’s what makes me happy” -Grace Caltabiano ’19.

“The whole experience was very life changing,” says Caltabiano. “I loved it so much that I went back a second time!”

Caltabiano embarked on her journey to the South Pacific with limited knowledge of Japanese culture and language, teaching herself some rudimentary Japanese for about 3 months before her first internship.

The experience Ogasawara, she said, taught her just as much about culture as marine research.

“I learned a lot about myself and about how to be a scientist in a cross-cultural environment,” Caltabiano said.

She also learned a lot about how scientists at Ogasawara worked in concert, rather than at odds with, local fishermen, an experience that stood out to what she has observed in Maine.

“If we took the collaborative and friendly attitude that they have there and applied it to ourselves, we could approach conservation with a lot more ease than when were not listening to each other,” she said. “I think there’s a lot we can learn from that.”

Grace Caltabiano '19 says that during her time at Ogasawara Marine Centre, above, she learned that having a collaborative attitude with local partners can make conservation more successful. Caltabiano spent two internships at the Centre and plans to return for her senior project.

Grace Caltabiano ’19 says that during her time at Ogasawara Marine Centre, above, she learned that having a collaborative attitude with local partners can make conservation more successful. Caltabiano spent two internships at the Centre and plans to return for her senior project.

Caltabiano plans on going back to the islands for her senior project. During this time, she hopes to record humpback whale songs and publish a paper about her findings.

The internships at Ogasawara have helped cement in her passions for marine science and for exotic locations, she said.

“I want to keep doing science in crazy locations because that’s what makes me happy,” Caltabiano said.

All COA students complete either a 450- or 320-hour, off-campus internship. This lets students explore career options, network and make connections, and learn skills that cannot be learned through coursework alone. Students do internships at businesses and companies, non-profits and schools, and in research labs in the US and around the world. 

Green Commitment From global politics to campus waste, COA students engage on all levels. 

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