Jess Williams
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Jess Williams
Christie Wilcox
Kate Levasseur
Melisa Heintz
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.
Jess Williams2015 Receipient: Jess Williams

Congratulations to Jess Williams, WDHOF Scholarship Winner in Marine Conservation Marine Conservation Biologist, PhD - James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to all for contributing towards my postgraduate education by offering me the 2015 scholarship in Marine Conservation. I am a full-time externally based PhD candidate studying through the James Cook University, in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. However, unlike most PhD students, my candidature has been a little less conventional as I have been living and working in a small subtropical beach side town in Mozambique focusing on sea turtle conservation. Although Mozambique has a beautiful coastline, stunning diving, surfing and friendly people, being based here has certainly made my candidature difficult at times, given the geographic remoteness, cultural and language barriers. Most importantly, being based so far away, in a place where power, water and internet are not always available, means I haven’t had the opportunity for regular exposure to academic environment and face to face contact with my supervisors like most students. However, with your support I was able to attend and participate in the 35th International Sea Turtle Symposium (ISTS35) hosted in Dalaman, Turkey. The sea turtle symposium is the largest single gathering of sea turtle biologists, ecologists, vets, students, volunteers, policy makers and others all in one place on the planet. I am nearing completion of my project, which makes it even more important to attend an international conference to present research findings and discuss results, ideas and analysis with other students, academics and experts, an experience that was even more valuable to me, given the remoteness of my normal location.

My PhD project is looking to assess the conservation status of sea turtles in Southern Mozambique, particularly the impact of poaching/ illegal take of sea turtles. Although turtles have been protected in Mozambique since 1965, poaching is still widespread and often goes unpunished. Very little baseline information on the population size, distribution and threats exists to assess how poaching impacts turtles. The first part of my project was designed to evaluate the use of recreational divers as citizen scientists by collecting their sightings dive logs. These dive logs coupled with a photographic identification program will give some basic information needed to understand population demographics. The scale pattern on each turtles face, the area above the jaw and behind the eye, is unique for each animal and resightings of individuals can be used to collect information on animal movements, habitat use and preferences, home range and residency characteristics. These findings on the population demographics of green and loggerhead turtles, evaluated through the use of citizen scientist collected photo-ID is what I chose to present in a scientific poster at the ISTS 35. I was also able to attend a number of side meetings at the conference, where at one, the Africa regional meeting I was invited to speak at the opening session, where I presented a talk on how to achieve effective conservation when political will is lacking. I was also delighted to attend and discuss emerging issues for the application of photo ID for sea turtles with other colleagues and experts in this field. It was thoroughly inspirational, motivating and informative to attend the ISTS learn and attend presentations from a wide variety of research themes, meet with other students and have the opportunity for a much needed face to face reunion with one of my three academic supervisors. The scholarship, which facilitated my travel to Europe from Africa to attend the conference also allowed me to attend a 5 day intensive course on scientific illustration. The course explored the use of various materials, techniques and applications for scientific drawing in the modern world and it was not only informative but also quite inspiring in a creative sense. With the visual nature of social media becoming an increasingly effective means of communicating science, I hope these new-found skills will help me with my future endeavors of education, outreach and disseminating my research findings. I have since returned back to my home of Praia do Tofo, Mozambique where I am preparing a draft manuscript on my photo ID findings from Mozambique that I hope to publish in peer reviewed scientific journal in the near future. Once again, I would like to sincerely thank the WDHOF for their support, for which none of these activities would have been possible otherwise.