What happens when endangered species recover into ecosystems that have been degraded by human activity? How should resource managers and scientists prepare the public for the impacts of species recovery on ecosystem services? These two questions are the core of my interests as an aspiring marine ecologist and resource manager. I am Alexandra Gulick, a current PhD Candidate in the Department of Biology and Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida. My doctoral research focuses on the grazing dynamics and foraging behavior of recovering green turtle populations in Caribbean seagrass ecosystems.

This summer, I am very excited to be a Scientists in Parks Fellow (SIP) for the National Park Service in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. NPS manages three parks in St. Croix: Christiansted National Historic Site, Buck Island Reef National Monument (BUIS), and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve; all of which have their own unique natural and cultural resources. As a SIP Fellow, I will be working most closely with natural resources at BUIS.

Image of a hawksbill turtle nesting on a beach at Buck Island Reef National Monument
A hawksbill sea turtle nesting at Buck Island Reef National Monument, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The park provides important nesting habitat to this critically endangered species in the Caribbean. Photo: Buck Island National Park Service

BUIS is a marine protected area off the coast of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands that hosts a variety of tropical marine ecosystems (e.g. coral reefs, seagrass meadows, deep-water habitats, coastal beaches and tropical dry forests) and threatened / endangered species. BUIS has one of the most pristine elkhorn-coral barrier reef ecosystems in the Caribbean, and is one of few national parks that is almost entirely underwater. The park’s biological diversity and complexity offers incredible opportunities for public recreation, education, and scientific research. A hallmark of the park’s natural resource management initiative is the Buck Island Sea Turtle Research Program (BISTRP). BUIS provides critical nesting and / or foraging habitat for four sea turtle species, including hawksbill, green, leatherback, and loggerhead. The BISTRP has monitored sea turtles at BUIS since 1987, and has been recognized as one of the most intensive and successful sea turtle monitoring programs in the world, particularly for hawksbill turtles (see photo).

For my SIP project, I am analyzing 33 years of monitoring data to provide a baseline assessment for the nesting aggregation of hawksbill turtles at BUIS. This assessment will assist resource managers in adapting management plans to ensure the continued conservation success of this endangered species in the park and throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. The majority of my fellowship will be conducted remotely from my location in Gainesville, Florida, but I will be visiting the park in July to run a workshop on sea turtles for local high school students participating in the Youth Oceans Explorers program.

Stay tuned this summer for further updates on sea turtles at BUIS! You may also find me on Twitter (@AlexandraGulick), Instagram (@alexandra.gulick), or visit my website.

Want to know more about BUIS? Check out this short video for an excellent overview of the park’s history, natural resources, and its importance to sea turtle conservation in the Caribbean.