CWU News

CWU Professor Receives International Fellowship to Study Turtle Conservation Efforts

How do humans change from being turtle hunters to turtle conservationists? That’s what Vanessa Hunt, a Central Washington University professor, sought to discover when she participated recently in an eight-day teaching fellowship program in Baja Mexico.

Hunt was selected by Ecology Project International (EPI) to study changing behaviors in local residents. Hunt teaches science education at CWU-Des Moines, which is located on the Highline College campus.

EPI is a non-profit field science and conservation organization that partners scientists with local and international students and educators in ecologically critical environments in Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Belize, Baja Mexico, Yellowstone, and Hawaii.

“I’m going to research how a couple of graduate students in the 1970s inspired the fishermen in the area to participate in a turtle conservation effort,” Hunt said.

During the first week of March, Hunt and a small group of carefully selected teachers from across North America experienced the field course for themselves as well as gained skills and resources they can bring back to the classroom with them.

Hunt participated in a modified version of EPI’s Turtle Ecology Program. She was immersed in the diverse ecology of the area, home to migrating grey whales and a thriving fishery. Days spent at Magdalena Bay, a unique haven on the peninsula’s wild Pacific coast, included sea turtle catch-and-release for scientific study, as well as lessons in how to incorporate field studies into the classroom. The turtles being studied are black turtles (Chelonia mydas agassizii), the eastern Pacific sub-species of the green turtle For more information about black turtles and conservation efforts, go to

According to Hunt, the fishermen used to avidly hunt turtles for food. When the young scientists/conservationists —“you know, hippies really, at that time”—began interacting with the fishing community, they inspired the community to take part in a conservation program.

“It involved citizen and community science, and I’d like to understand the factors that contributed to that,” Hunt continued. “I’d like to talk to the fishermen about what caused their change of heart, and possibly develop that relationship further.”

EPI Guest Fellow
In addition to her position at CWU-Des Moines, Hunt is a lecturer in environmental science at the University of Washington Tacoma. A 2016 EPI Fellow to Espiritu Santo, Hunt is returning to the field to conduct research in Magdalena Bay on the local community partnerships that support and sustain conservation efforts in the bay’s remote, traditional fishing communities.

About EPI
EPI’s mission is to improve and inspire science education and conservation efforts worldwide through field-based student-scientist partnerships.

Since 2005, EPI has worked with more than 10,000 students in their Baja Mexico program, the majority of them local to the project site.

EPI is a conservation education non-profit like no other. EPI involves young people from the U.S., Belize, Costa Rica and other Latin American countries in hands-on science and conservation projects that protect species and habitat in five countries. More than 30,000 students have participated in their field programs since 2000, with more than 70 percent of those participants being under-served local youth living in communities adjacent to the project site. The impact of these courses is profound on both local and visiting students, establishing a lifelong commitment to conservation and empowering the next generation of conservation leaders.

For more information on EPI’s programs or how teachers can apply for next year’s Fellowship, visit their website at

Photo: Professor Vanessa Hunt (r) measures a turtle at Magdalena Bay.
Photo: An EPI Instructor releases a newly tagged turtle.

Media Contact: Rachael Caldwell, EPI Communications Manager,, 406-721-8784