Biology Alumna Dedicated to Sea Turtle Conservation

Callie Veelenturf (left) with Jane Goodall in 2017.

Callie Veelenturf (M.S., biology, ’17) set a goal “to spend my life conserving endangered species and more specifically working on the frontlines of bycatch, poaching, and sea turtle research and conservation.” The impressive amount of achievements she has acquired, both during and after her time at Purdue University Fort Wayne, shows her dedication to that goal.

(left to right) Dr. Frank Paladino (biology), Callie, and Dr. Shaya Honarvar at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in Lima, Peru

While at Purdue Fort Wayne, Callie won several awards. In addition to receiving a Top 50 Award, she received the Marine Science Society Bajus Scholarship, which “recognizes students who not only excel academically but who also make their mark by giving back to the PFW campus and their communities,” and the Archie Carr Award for Best Conservation Poster at the 36th International Sea Turtle Symposium in Lima, Peru. The poster detailed her previous research through the Hollings Scholarship Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), regarding the overlap of human and green sea turtle use of critically important turtle foraging habitat.

Callie conducting research for her master’s thesis. This photo taken by Jonah Reenders won Nature‘s 2018 #ScientistAtWork photo contest.

For her master’s thesis research, Callie studied green and leatherback sea turtles on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea, West Africa. Her research was partially sponsored by Alps Mountaineering and Onset Data Loggers. While working there, she was captured in a photo that would eventually win the scientific journal Nature’s 2018 #ScientistAtWork photo contest.

Since graduating in August 2017, Callie has continued to conduct and present her research. She worked as a research assistant at the largest nesting site in Costa Rica for part of the 5-month turtle nesting season. In February 2018, she presented her master’s thesis research at the 38th International Sea Turtle Symposium in Kobe, Japan.

Callie also won the Cocos Island Conservation Scholarship awarded by the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN). This led to her participation in a shark tagging expedition, the opportunity to go in a submarine to 715 feet and collect data on marine biodiversity, and a job as a Leatherback Fellow/Marine Biologist at TIRN. At TIRN Callie is working to support local communities and initiatives in Central and South America in the conservation of the critically endangered Eastern Pacific subpopulation of the leatherback sea turtle. Callie is also a guest lecturer at the University of Hawaii, where she speaks about reptiles and climate change as well as the conservation of leatherback sea turtles.

Callie with Dr. Frank Paladino celebrating a successful master’s thesis defense!

Callie is clearly passionate about her goal and of course grateful to those that helped her find incredible opportunities. “Thank you to Dr. Shaya Honarvar, founder and director of the Bioko Marine Turtle Program, and Dr. Frank Paladino, chair of the biology department at PFW and president of The Leatherback Trust . . . Without the foundation of science and active conservation programs that they have put into place, my master’s thesis research would not have been possible. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with them and the other great faculty and staff at the Purdue University Fort Wayne Biology Department!”

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