RALEIGH — The N.C. Wildlife Federation this week named sea turtle biologist Dr. Matthew Godfrey of Beaufort Wildlife Conservationist of the Year in the 57th Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards.
Dr. Godfrey works for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and coordinates the statewide sea turtle nesting and protection program. He is also an adjunct professor at the Duke University Marine Laboratory in Beaufort and the N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine at the Center for Marine Science and Technology in Morehead City.
In announcing the award, the wildlife federation called Dr. Godfrey, “A renowned sea turtle biologist, educator, researcher and policy expert (who) organizes and inspires a thousand-strong force of citizen scientists who monitor, protect, collect data and even rescue sea turtles.
“His extended ‘eyes and hands’ also facilitate real-time responses by other agencies, land and water managers, scientists and nonprofits to unusual occurrences affecting our marine mammals, sea birds and local wildlife,” the federation continued.
Dr. Godfrey credited the sea turtle volunteers along the coast, including dozens on Bogue Banks, for his award.
“I think it reflects that we have a great network of excellent people in the state,” he said, and also credited other agencies, including his own, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for working to protect the creatures who nest along the beaches.
“We have (volunteers) in every beach community,” he said, and there are also paid staff involved at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and the National Park Service at Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras national seashores.
“All of these people are very dedicated,” Dr. Godfrey said.
Generally, he said the number of sea turtle nests on North Carolina beaches has been rising since 2010, reflecting increased federal, state and local protection efforts that began in the 1980s.
The volunteers in Emerald Isle, Indian Beach, Pine Knoll Shores and Atlantic Beach are among the best in the state, Dr. Godfrey continued. They walk the beach looking for nests and then help the hatchlings make their way the ocean, sometimes babysitting them overnight and digging trenches for their trek to the sea. In addition, trained volunteers sometimes move nests landward to keep them from being inundated by high tides.
Dale Baquer, head of the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Patrol, said Dr. Godfrey “has always been a pleasure to work with” and “is available to us when we need him, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The biologist does a “great job and is always helpful,” she added. “He’s just a great guy. I love working for and with him.”
Once a year, Ms. Baquer said Dr. Godfrey leads a training session for all turtle volunteers in the state, and “gives us all the data for the previous season and updates us on any policy changes.”
In announcing the awards in a press release, T. Edward Nickens, the NCWF awards committee chairperson, said “Each year, we’re amazed by the commitment and creativity of North Carolinians working to protect the wildlife, air, water and land we all depend on.
“This year’s conservation heroes are land stewardship champions, water advocates and leaders in the preservation of unique ecosystems — and we’re thrilled to be able to honor them in person at our banquet this year.”
Award recipients will be honored in a ceremony in September.
“For nearly 60 years, this annual awards program has brought together a diverse group of conservationists to highlight the good news about wildlife conservation across the state,” Mr. Nickens added in the release. “We hope it inspires others to take a more active role in protecting North Carolina’s natural resources for future generations.”
First presented in 1958, the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards are the highest natural resource honors given in the state. North Carolina residents nominate conservation leaders, professionals and volunteers from across the state. A committee of scientists, environmental educators and conservation activists select award winners, according to the press release.
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