For over 30 years, Jeanete Wyneken, Ph.D., a professor of Biological Sciences in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and director of FAU’s Marine Lab at Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex, has been studying marine turtles. Her passion for the species remains steadfast, as she tirelessly works to protect these fragile marine animals while instilling the same desire in others as a teacher, researcher and mentor.
The self-professed “turtle geek” grew up with turtles as pets. Jeanete has been fascinated by the animals for much of her life, transforming from turtle hobbyist to scientist. Today, she studies how turtles’ biology helps us to understand South Florida’s beaches, oceans and estuaries.
“Sea turtles are charismatic subjects, helping us tell scientific stories that are important for everyone to know,” Jeanete expressed. “I take the responsibility for understanding and sharing what we learn very seriously. Sea turtles are ancient animals, having survived across millions of years. There’s a lot of biology packed within their history, which deserves a lot of respect.”
A signiﬁcant part of understanding sea turtle resiliency can be garnered from researching their life history characteristics over time, such as how many hatchlings are produced and how many are males and females. Such long-term data sets on turtles are rare. Jeanete’s lab is the only one that systematically measures hatchling sex ratios in loggerheads, green turtles and leatherbacks in a non-lethal way across a generation — approximately 20 to 30 years.
Jeanete has also developed novel tracking methods to safely satellite tag small sea turtles and then remotely follow them on their ocean journeys. Although neonate turtles are very tiny, her innovative team found ways to attach the tag so it would safely and quickly fall oﬀ after the turtle’s location was transmitted to the satellite tracking system.
Her lab’s scientific discoveries are widely shared with local, state and federal regulatory agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations. It had always been Jeanete’s vision for her students to educate the community about FAU’s ground- breaking research on turtles, sharks, rays, octopuses, aquatic plants and the unique roles they play in the aquatic ecosystem, as well as how multiple ﬁelds of study can widely share this research.
Thanks to the Glenn W. and Cornelia T. Bailey Marine SEA (Science, Education and Arts) Scholars program, students can share their oceanic knowledge from creative and scientific perspectives. The program teams students in science and the arts at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels, to communicate the science, skillfully and creatively, from FAU’s Marine Lab to more than 240,000 guests who visit Gumbo Limbo Nature Center each year.
“We are open to telling our stories at multiple levels, appropriate for diverse audiences,” said Jeanete. “The science is only as good as the ability of others to understand what you are saying, what you are doing, and why it maters.”
To learn more about how Florida Atlantic is committed to conserving our oceans and ecosystems, as well as how Transcend Tomorrow: The Campaign for Florida Atlantic University is working to provide scholarships to propel access to higher education and address the growing need to train more health care workers, visit transcendtomorrow.fau.edu.