Sea Turtle Specialist Leah Schwartzentruber
Park Service Profiles
Meet Leah Schwartzentruber, the Sea Turtle Specialist at Edisto Beach State Park! Leah grew up in the small rural town of Wellesley, in Ontario, Canada. She graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelors of Science. Leah started with South Carolina State Parks after completing her second year of university, as a sea turtle intern in 2012 and has been employed as the Sea Turtle Specialist since 2016.
Prior to her internship at Edisto Beach State Park, Leah only had experience with dogs and cats through a local humane society and vet clinic. She was wanting to get out in the field and get experience with wildlife, when she saw an a post about a sea turtle internship. As soon as she began her internship at Edisto Beach State Park, Leah knew this was the career path for her. “I felt like I finally found my purpose. I loved being out in the field every day, protecting nesting sea turtles and educating the public, I knew I was really making a difference,” she says.
After her internship, she completed her Bachelors Degree and continued to gain experience through volunteering and internships. Before becoming the specialist at Edisto Beach State park, Leah worked as a research assistant in Costa Rica, interned in Honduras, presented at a conference in Trinidad and was an evening care coordinator in Australia. Leah continued spending her summers at Edisto Beach, volunteering with the project until she became the Sea Turtle Specialist in 2016.
Starting May 1st, a team of volunteers, staff and interns, patrol the 1.5 mile stretch of beach daily for signs of sea turtle activity. Along with marking nests and false crawls, they also pick-up trash and document their finds. Besides the office work of emails, data entry and scheduling, a large portion of Leah’s job is dedicated to educational programs. She leads the sea turtle night walk program, held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night in June and July. This includes a presentation and then a walk down the beach for a chance to witness a nesting sea turtle or emerging hatchlings. Starting around mid-July, nests will reach the 45 to 60 day mark of incubation and start hatching. The team waits 3-5 days after a nest has emerged to conduct an inventory. They count the hatched eggs, unhatched eggs and on occasions also find live hatchlings. They host this as a public program on Wednesday and Friday evenings. Leah’s hours are varied, working early in the morning or late at night but that is what she enjoys most about her job. No two days are the same, she says.
Leah says one of the most satisfying things about her job is sharing her love for sea turtles and the environment with visitors. She says “it is so special to witness someone seeing a sea turtle for the first time. I also love working with our amazing group of local volunteers, staff and summer college interns. The work I do could not be done without the help of our dedicated and passionate turtle team!”
She would encourage others to pursue a similar career and says that it is highly rewarding to feel like you are making a difference in both the conservation of sea turtles and with educating the public. Although sea turtle work may look glamourous, what you don’t see is the hard work, hot days and biting bugs! But if you are dedicated and love what you do, it won’t feel like work. Leah says her advice if someone is interested in becoming a sea turtle biologist is to find volunteer and internship opportunities and see if it is really what they want to pursue.
Thank you for all your hard work, Leah! Check out Leah doing a Loggerhead sea turtle nest relocation in the video below. Think you might be interested in a job with the South Carolina State Park Service? Click here to see our current, full-time job openings!
Leah is permitted by the Department of Natural Resources in order to conduct all of the sea turtle monitoring at Edisto Beach, as sea turtles are a state-wide and federally protected species.