Keynote Speakers

Opening Keynote Address: THANE WIBBELS


SERSTN is delighted to announce that the 2020 meeting Keynote Speaker for Wednesday February 5 will be Dr. Thane Wibbels, Professor, Department of Biology, University of Alabama at Birmingham. Thane Wibbels has been involved with sea turtle conservation and research over the past four decades.  His scientific career started with work on the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle as it was nearing extinction in the early 1980’s. His career has included work on temperature-dependent sex determination, sea turtle endocrinology, and the reproductive ecology and biology of sea turtles.  He has had the good fortune of working with some outstanding leaders in sea turtle biology such as Dave Owens, Colin Limpus, Lewelyn Ehrhart, George Balazs, and Rene’ Marquez.  His studies have included collaborative projects in various parts of the world, such as Australia, Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Nicaragua, Hawaii, Texas, and Florida.  Over the past two decades he and his graduate students have been collaborating with the Kemp’s Ridley Binational Program in order to evaluate the impact of global climate change on the reproductive biology of the Kemp’s ridley.  This collaboration has resulted in the longest-term data base on nesting beach temperatures relative to hatchling sex ratio production and in a sea turtle species.  He has also collaborated on the evaluation of the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the reproductive biology of the Kemp’s ridey. More recently he and his graduate students have been evaluating and implementing “high tech” methodologies for studying important events in the life history of sea turtles.

Of particular interest, Thane Wibbels has been a first-hand witness to the evolution of sea turtle conservation in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic for the Kemp’s ridley (historically the most endangered sea turtle in the world).  Over the past four decades he has been able to observe and document the herculean efforts of a wide variety of individuals and organizations that brought the Kemp’s ridley back from the brink of extinction.

His presentation will include a historical perspective of how sea turtle conservation efforts evolve, and will conclude with examples of how technology has greatly enhanced our conservation capabilities.




SERSTN is delighted to announce that Jace Tunnell,, Reserve Director at the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas, will be the second Keynote Speaker on Thursday, February 6 for the 2020 meeting.

Jace Tunnell is the Reserve Director at the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas, where he runs research and education programs that educate future generations about conservation in the bays and estuaries. Jace served as president of the Coastal Bend Bays Foundation from 2016 to 2018, and is a board member on over 20 science and environmental committees across the United States. He started the Gulf of Mexico-wide citizen science project called Nurdle Patrol that is mapping plastic pellets found along shorelines across the Gulf, including Mexico. He initiated the Baffin Bay Study Group which is now developing a community based restoration plan for the bay system. Jace is author of a book titled, “Pioneering Archeology in the Texas Coastal Bend” where he and his father outline conservation of archeological sites in hopes of protecting coastal environments as well as cultural history. He has also directed and produced over 100 short videos about science, research, and nature, including “All the Cups” video about trash entering the waterways, and narrated by his son Jack. The video won the Blue Gulf Film Festival and received an award by Dr. Sylvia Earle for the impact and messaging of protecting the ocean. Among his honors he was awarded conservationist of the year in 2017 by the Coastal Conservation Association, and Environmental Steward of the year in 2015 by the Coastal Bend Bays Foundation.

Jace will focus his presentation on Nurdle Patrol efforts, the impacts of plastic pellets to sea turtles, and future direction of the program. Nurdles are small plastic pellets and are the basis of everything plastic. They look like food to animals, and they absorb other toxins in the environment so can be deadly to some animals depending on the toxin concentrations. We are looking to gather information about where nurdles are located across the Gulf of Mexico, remove the nurdles from the environment, and create awareness about the nurdle issue to help find the source.


Christine Figgener is a German marine conservation biologist and ocean advocate. Right now a doctoral student at Texas A&M University, she is writing her dissertation on sea turtle trophic and movement ecology. Before starting her PhD, Christine has worked in marine turtle research and conservation in Central America for over a decade. Her ambition is to apply her research findings to the conservation of these charismatic animals while in return using them as ocean ambassadors to connect the public to the threats our oceans are facing, in particular, plastic pollution.

She is a founding member of the grassroots organization Costa Rican Alliance for Sea Turtle Conservation & Science (COASTS) in Costa Rica, which is meant to empower local conservationists and scientists, in particular, local women. Her claim to fame and shining public moment is a viral video she uploaded in 2015 that documented the removal of a plastic straw from an olive ridley turtle’s nose. That video provided fuel and a valuable tool for the global anti-straw movement, leading to several straw bans by businesses such as Starbucks, Disney, and Alaska Airlines. It has also given her a voice in the conversation around the use of single-use plastics and other environmental issues affecting marine life. She has made such an impact that she was recently named a Next Generation Leader by Time Magazine, and was a finalist of the feature “Texan of the Year” by the Dallas Morning News. Her research and advocacy efforts have been featured in different documentary productions, such as the BBC and NatGeo.

So while the video might be years old at this point, her research, campaign against single-use plastics for the benefit and conservation of marine life, and her empowerment of women in STEM are still young, important, and necessary.

Her presentation will talk about the importance of our actions and daily choices concerning plastic products.

Plastics, especially single-use plastics, constitute a major problem for Earth’s ecosystems, as well as our own health. It is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050, and there is already the first evidence of micro-plastics making their way into our diet. There is much we can do to help with this issue, and although recycling is crucial, it will not solve the global problem. Reducing our plastic consumption in our everyday life is of the utmost importance. Single-use plastics are usually the least likely to be recyclable but are also the plastics that are usually just convenience products that we do not really need.