The Caretta Research Project (CRP) is a non-profit environmental organization located in Savannah, Georgia, USA. The CRP was founded in 1972 by a family member of the Wassaw Island Trust, herpetologists at the Savannah Science Museum and staff of the USFWS Savannah Coastal Refuges. Initially the work was done by the Savannah Herpetology Club and it expanded to the volunteer-based program that it is today. The primary goals of the CRP are to:
- monitor loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) activity and study reproductive biology and population trends on Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge, Chatham County, Georgia
- protect eggs and hatchlings from spring tides and predation, to release as many hatchlings into the water as possible, and
- educate the public on issues related to conservation and management of marine turtles via hands-on participation or public programming.
During the summer of 1972, nesting turtles were observed but no protection was given to nests. A tagging program, which continues to date, was implemented in 1973 with nest protection beginning in 1976. This makes the CRP one of the longest continuously running marine turtle monitoring projects in the United States. Data collected since 1973 have been used to monitor population trends in Georgia and the southeastern USA.
Funding for the CRP is derived from multiple sources including granting agencies, fundraising events and donations from community members and contributions from local businesses. Additional money is received from fee-based participation of the public volunteers in the activities of this eco vacation. During each week of monitoring, May through September, up to six eco volunteers pay to assist with data collection and conservation and protection efforts on Wassaw under the direct supervision of CRP staff.
There have been many research projects, as well as collaborative projects, at the CRP including: identification, life history and genetic analysis of epibionts of the loggerhead; monitoring of incubation temperatures in nests for approximation of sex ratios in hatchlings; determining fecundity of females by ultrasound and blood hormone levels; genetic studies, fungal and bacterial infestation of nests, and tracking inter-nesting and post-nesting movements of females by satellite telemetry. The CRP welcomes any research proposals for collaborative studies.