Sea turtles are an important ecological resource for Gulf Islands National Seashore’s (Gulf Islands) waters and shorelines. Regionally, sea turtles face anthropogenic threats from situations
such as entanglement in fishing gear and ingestion of marine debris, as well as possible changes in sex ratios due to increasing temperatures related to human-induced global warming. Locally, light pollution from residential, commercial, and industrial neighborhoods from nearby cities impacts the entirety of Gulf Islands, which spans 160 miles along the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Mississippi, and includes critical habitat for threatened and endangered sea turtles. Because light pollution has been hypothesized to negatively impact sea turtle nesting and hatchling survival, Gulf Islands undertook an effort to understand the relationship between light pollution and sea turtles and create unique educational and outreach opportunities by launching a citizen science program called Turtle Teens Helping in the Seashore (Turtle THIS). At the onset, the Turtle THIS program had two primary goals: quantify the association between light pollution and sea turtle nesting and hatching events using rigorous scientific methods; and initiate a citizen science volunteer program to provide youth with hands-on science and environmental stewardship roles, where they also gain employable skills and career opportunities. With multiple scientific hypotheses to consider, the development of a citizen science program became crucial. Such circumstances allowed Turtle THIS to grow a volunteer and intern program, quantify hypothesized light effects on sea turtles through developed methods, and begin to gather preliminary findings.