Panel Discussion

Announcement: Thank you to everyone who participated in the COVID-19 Panel Discussion. If you were not able to attend, please check out the recordings of the discussion below!

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on sea turtle research and conservation

What is the Panel Discussion?

This event will be a single, 1.5-hour discussion held over Zoom, led by 5 sea turtle experts (see below) and moderated by the Sea Turtle Talks organizers. The Panel Discussion will take place on Thursday, September 16th, 12.00–13.30 Central Standard Time (UTC -6). A recording of the meeting will be made publicly available on the Sea Turtle Talks website the week after the event for those who are unable to attend the event. This event will no longer be streamed live via YouTube.

The session will start with a short summary of the Sea Turtle Talks Twitter event from two days prior and will then shift to an informal discussion of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on sea turtle research and conservation globally. The event will also include a discussion of strategies for overcoming pandemic-related impacts now and in the future. The session moderator will have a curated list of questions for the panelists to facilitate the discussion. However, as the goal is to have an informal discussion within the sea turtle community, questions will also be accepted from registrants and attendees both before and during the event. This panel discussion will be summarized into a report provided to the ISTS Board of Directors.

More details:

    • Participants will need to pre-register to participate. Registration will close on September 2nd.

    • Zoom links will be shared with registrants one week prior to the event.

    • Due to institutional capacity limits, the attendee limit will be 200 people (pre-registered). However, if there is overwhelming interest another panel may be convened at a different time to maximize participation.

Who are the sea turtle experts serving on the panel?

Daniela Freggi, Lampedusa Sea Turtle Rescue Center

Daniela has been involved in the study and conservation of sea turtles for 35 years, mainly in the Lampedusa Sea Turtle Rescue Center, where despite the lack of funds, more than 6,000 turtles have been rescued and about 2,000 surgeries have been performed. Educational activities are carried out for more than 25,000 visitors every summer and we are directly involved in fishermen sensibilization, analyzing by-catch interaction effects. Daniela is constantly involved with volunteers and students, hosting their internships, placements, or activities on sea turtle conservation, and cooperates with Italian and international scientific institutions on sea turtle care and conservation. Daniela actively works to develop collaboration among Sea Turtle Rescue Centers in the Mediterranean region and with international Sea Turtle Conservation Projects around the world, with particular attention on centers located in remote areas and with no financial support.

Dr. A. Alonso Aguirre, George Mason University

Dr. A. Alonso Aguirre is Professor and Chair at the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. For the past three decades he has worked in over 25 countries focusing on the conservation of endangered species and ecosystems. Dr. Aguirre cofounded the emerging discipline of Conservation Medicine, the journal EcoHealth and the International Association of Ecology and Health. His research has been instrumental in revealing the impact of emerging diseases of marine wildlife populations with grants from NSF, USAID, USDA, NOAA, and other federal agencies and non-profit organizations. Specifically, he has worked with sea turtle health, conservation and emerging diseases over 30 years. He has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and 5 books. Dr. Aguirre was appointed to the Board on Life Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences and recently has been appointed expert panel of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on Transformative Change. Dr. Aguirre has advised governments of several countries in the Americas, Southeast Asia and Western Europe and briefed the Mexican and United States Congress. His work has been the focus of extensive media coverage and has received numerous awards including the Warner College of Natural Resources Distinguished Alumnus Award, the Conservation Merit Bicentennial Award from Mexico, and the Harry Jalanka Memorial Medal from Finland.

Gabriela Vélez-Rubio, Karumbé

Dr. Vélez-Rubio is an Assistant Professor in the Oceanography and Marine Ecology Group of the Science Faculty (Universidad de la República, Uruguay) and the Research Coordinator of the NGO Karumbé. Dr. Vélez-Rubio started to work with sea turtles in 2009 in Uruguay with the local NGO Karumbé. She has a B.Sc. Degree in Biological Sciences (2008, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Spain), and an M.Sc. Degree and PhD. in Biodiversity (2012 & 2017, University of Valencia, Spain). Her Ph.D. research focused on the feeding ecology, habitat use, and threats to green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Southwestern Atlantic. Since 2017, she is a member of the Marine Turtles Specialist Group of the IUCN. Dr. Vélez-Rubio is also the founder and coordinator of the Seaweed Research Group in Uruguay. Her research interests currently combine two passions, sea turtles and seaweeds, trying to understand their relationship in an oceanographic changeable scenario.

Dr. Vélez-Rubio has published a total of 20 peer-reviewed articles, one book chapter, and has a 9 h-index (

Dr. Roldán Valverde, Sea Turtle Conservancy

Dr. Valverde is the Scientific Director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) and is specifically in charge of the science and conservation programs of the STC in the southwest Caribbean region. His research specialties are the nesting ecology and stress and reproductive physiology of sea turtles. Dr. Valverde is also a Professor of Biology at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Melissa Staines, University of Queensland

Melissa Staines is an Australian Marine Biologist and Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Queensland, currently investigating the effects of climate change on the sex ratios of endangered sea turtle populations in Asia-Pacific. Melissa’s Ph.D. project is in collaboration with WWF-Australia and has been contributing research to WWF-Australia's Turtle Cooling Project since its commencement in 2018. Her Ph.D. supervisors include Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts and Honorary Prof David Booth from the University of Queensland and Professor Graeme Hays from Deakin University.