Using Remote Sensing Tools to Address Conflicts between Humans and Sea Turtles in the Cayman Islands (2020-2021)


Coastal zones are essential to human health and well-being around the world. The pace of coastal change is accelerating, as the combined effects of human development, resource extraction and climate manipulation manifest. These effects include increases in sea level coupled with periodic sea level anomalies and surges associated with storms and oceanographic phenomena. Rising sea levels are particularly pressing for small islands ecosystems, and current predictions of sea level rise will require significant adaptive retreat and expensive efforts to address the increasing effects of coastal squeeze on human populations and coastal species and habitats.

Caribbean islands such as the Cayman Islands are faced with effects of climate change, sea level rise and periodic tropical storms. In these areas, sea turtles may also be affected by reductions in nest habitat associated with human development, along with unintentional consequences of human activities, such as the disorienting effects of light pollution on nesting females and newly hatched young. New satellite and drone-based remote sensing tools can help researchers and managers address conflicts between humans and sea turtles.

Project Description

This project team will use satellite remote sensing, drone-based assessments as well as traditional sampling techniques to assess physical and biological aspects of the Cayman land-ocean interface and how they intersect with the biology and ecology of sea turtles.

The team will take part in a scoping teleworkshop and in-person training at the Duke Marine Lab. The two-day workshop will connect team members from Duke and Exeter universities with staff and scientists at the Department of Environment of the Government of the Cayman Islands. Participants will define project needs, identify existing data and information gaps and prioritize a set of research questions. Following the workshop, the team will use satellite data, aerial drones and terrestrial rovers for data collection during fieldwork in the Caymans. This will be followed by a two-week summer field effort in the Cayman Islands to address key questions using done-based assessments of urban and rural beach habitats.

Team members will then focus on data and applications through a seminar course at the Duke Marine Lab, followed by further analysis of the data and development of final products to the Department of Environment of the Government of the Cayman Islands.

Anticipated Outputs

Workshop report; two published papers; accessible geodatabase


Summer 2020 – Spring 2021

  • Summer 2020: Teleworkshop; Duke Marine Lab training; travel to Cayman Islands
  • Fall 2020: Seminar course; data analysis
  • Spring 2021: Further data analysis; submission of final products to Department of Environment, Government of Cayman Islands


Image: Sea Turtles, Cayman Islands, by J. Stephen Conn, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Sea Turtles.

Team Leaders

  • Brendan Godley, University of Exeter
  • David Johnston, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Department of Environment, Cayman Islands Government
  • Jeremy Olynik, Department of Environment, Cayman Islands Government