Today we’d like to introduce you to Amber Kuehn. Them and their team share their story with us below:
Amber Kuehn, Owner of Spartina Marine Education Charters, Sea Turtle Patrol HHI Manager, and founder of Spartina Dolphin and Sea Turtle Stranding Response Amber was raised with the May River in Bluffton as her playground. A 15-foot Boston Whaler and an adventurous (or maybe just fearless) 12-year-old set out on quests to discover dolphins, sand bars, shrimp, and blue crabs. Most everything was learned by trial and error… the type of learning that sticks. Although she knew the rhythm of the May, she could not always explain why it was so….
Ten years later, our Bluffton child had a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Georgia (1997) and discovered Sea Turtle Patrol HHI in 1998. Three seasons of sea turtle nesting inspired an application to graduate school for a Master’s degree in Marine Biology. Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center in Ft. Lauderdale, FL manages sea turtle nest monitoring for Broward County Beaches which served as the subject of Amber’s research regarding sea finding in hatchlings in an urban environment (2001 – 2004).
Since boating was second nature, her Master 100-ton captain’s license was a natural progression and used to operate dive boats for HHI Scuba Dive and Travel, and later South Florida Diving Headquarters. As a scuba instructor and dive boat operator, the underwater world burst into reality. After 3 years in south Florida, she furthered her career for 2 more years in the diving industry for Maui Dive Shop. On Maui, she also participated in the Hawksbill Recovery Project managed by Hawaii Wildlife Fund.
In 2006, after 5 years of clear blue waters, she returned home to the Lowcountry and immediately returned to the Sea Turtle Patrol HHI. She has been monitoring sea turtle nesting on HHI for 17 consecutive seasons and currently manages the program on HHI. For 24 years, the sea turtles have influenced her direction. She recalls the exact moment when she discovered her passion for the sea turtles that took her down this path…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5UnbocOBaY&t=5s
The Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island, initiated in 1997, is an independent federal 501c3 nonprofit. It has evolved over 25 years to monitor all 14 miles of HHI ocean-facing beach, perform nest site relocation above the spring high tide line, implement genetic sampling, and collect nesting data at inventory for the conservation of this endangered species. The program is permitted by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Sea Turtles nest on the South Carolina coast from mid-May to mid-August and hatchlings leave the beaches from July through October. Amber created SPARTINA Marine Education Charters to educate visitors and locals on Lowcountry ecology and conservation. Her knowledge of the salt marsh estuary is based on a childhood introduction to the area and a master’s degree in marine biology to complete the explanation. It is both entertaining and easy to understand. Although her love of sea turtles “jump-started” this journey, she realizes how everything is connected and that the Lowcountry topography is the link that supports this prolific wildlife web.
Amber is an active volunteer for the SC Marine Mammal Stranding Network in Beaufort County and performs dolphin necropsies in the field for NOS (National Oceanic Services, a division of NOAA). She also received an award from SCDNR in 2014 for her dedication to sea turtle stranding response.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have been several struggles along the way, personally and financially. There are several levels of paperwork and permitting regarding state agencies monitoring nonprofits. Other permitting for work with endangered species compounds the administrative responsibilities for the work that we do. It is all volunteer. My first paycheck materialized in 2022, but it is not enough to make a living. We achieve our goals with the passion that we have for sea turtles. I have been self-employed running my tour boat business since 2014.
Keeping up with both full-time jobs gets more difficult each year. One of the largest obstacles was another nonprofit on the island that monetized sea turtle conservation on the island to supplement their budget. They continue to disregard our efforts as the nonprofit on the island responsible for the data collection and conservation from which they benefit. Ultimately, the sea turtle program belongs to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
We report our data directly to them. The nonprofit supports this effort through financing supplies, vehicles, maintenance, fuel, uniforms, etc., and outreach education efforts.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am a professional boat captain with a 100-ton master designation. I am a scuba instructor and marine biologist permitted through the SC Dept. of Natural Resources and SC Marine Mammal Stranding Network (NOAA) to interact with sea turtles and recover both sea turtles and marine mammals that are stranded. I began driving a boat when I was 12 years old and I have used that skill as a dive boat captain and tour boat captain.
I run school trips for Beaufort County Schools, local civic organizations, neighborhood groups, and tourists. I specialize in sea turtles overall, but I have researched the local ecology where I was raised and have great stories to associate with the knowledge that I have gained. My tour is 2 hours and humor is essential to keep the attention of the passengers throughout the scientific explanation.
Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out.
In the Marine Science field, a master’s degree is essential. Undergraduate work can be ecology or some sort of environmentally related subject. Specialization comes later.
Experience in the field (almost always volunteer) is also beneficial when seeking academic admission or jobs. If there is not a passion that fuels the determination to follow this path, it may not be the field for you.
- Website: www.SeaTurtlePatrolHHI.org
- Instagram: @hhiseaturtle
- Facebook: Sea Turtle Patrol HHI
- Other: https://vimeo.com/706165674