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Kate Levasseur
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Deborah Klughers
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Women Divers Hall of Fame $2000 Scholarship Fund recognizes the contributions of women pioneers, leaders and innovators in the many fields of diving; Promoting careers & opportunities for women in the dive community. Meet some of the receipients of these scholarships.

Visit the Women Divers Hall of Fame website to learn more.
2013 Recipient: Kate Levasseur
Kate Levasseur
    With the help of the Graduate Scholarship in Marine Conservation awarded by the WDHOF and the Aggressor-Dancer Fleet, I am currently continuing my graduate fieldwork with the hawksbill turtle nesting aggregation on the sister-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda in the Eastern Caribbean. While my first intention as an undergraduate student was to study molecular biology, my interests shifted to ecology and conservation after I traveled to South Africa for a field course ten years ago. I have always been fascinated by nature, especially marine systems, and began to pursue marine ecology and conservation by working in a marine bivalve research lab. As part of my Master’s Degree in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, I then participated in an exchange program in Brazil where I investigated a ‘shifting baseline’ of knowledge between older and younger fishers in a coastal village. I interviewed individuals to obtain their perceptions of the changes in the size of fish stocks, the species encountered, and the general condition of the coastal environment. These six months abroad confirmed my ambitions to study marine conservation as a research scientist, but also solidified a love of field work and environmental outreach.

     In 2008, I was hired to direct the field operations for the Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project (JBHP), a hawksbill sea turtle monitoring program located on Antigua. In addition to collecting and managing field data and organizing field house logistics for four years, I trained representatives from regional developing projects, led educational turtle tours several times a week, and participated in a local summer camp focused on promoting environment awareness in youth. Working with the project stimulated many research questions and I began to consider returning to graduate school to learn how to better answer these questions. The hawksbills nesting at Jumby Bay (JB) offer a unique opportunity to investigate life history patterns, population structure, and nesting behavior in a stable nesting aggregation, especially if genetic information can be used to supplement the JBHP’s long-term nesting data. During my third year with the project, I obtained a tissue collection permit from Antigua’s Fisheries Division and implemented tissue sampling to our field protocols for genetic analyses.

     I was accepted into the Integrative Biology PhD program at the University of South Carolina in 2011 and awarded a Presidential Fellowship due, in part, to my field experience prior to admission. I am pursuing an integrative degree, with a focus of conservation genetics, to combine my interests in molecular biology with my passion for the natural world and the biological diversity it contains. By using genetic markers in combination with long-term nesting data, I aim to (1) investigate population structure within the JB rookery (i.e. mother-daughter relationships and paternal reconstructions), (2) determine if JB hawksbills are distinct from those nesting on adjacent islands or part of one large nesting assemblage, and (3) characterize the degree of nest-site fidelity exhibited by hawksbill turtles within and among nesting seasons. Investigating this group of hawksbills not only has the potential to provide novel evidence to natal homing behavior in sea turtles, but is also necessary to best inform conservation and recovery strategies for this fragmented, keystone species. Moreover, the vast majority of sea turtle research in the last few decades has focused on nesting beaches, i.e. the female component of the population. Using genetic markers to reconstruct paternal identities can reveal information about the under-studied male component of the breeding population.

     The generous scholarship awarded by the Aggressor-Dancer Fleet has enabled me to return to Antigua this summer for longer than I had originally planned, where I am currently collaborating with the JBHP and the Antigua Sea Turtle Project to collect tissue samples from nesting females and hatchlings. To give back to this island and its people, who have been welcoming and generous to me for years, I have also been collecting additional sea turtle nesting data from remote beaches and hosting turtle watches for local groups.