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Donna Shaver receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Over the past three decades, Dr. Donna Shaver has committed her life and career to bringing Kemp’s ridley sea turtles back from the brink of extinction. Courtesy photo

The International Sea Turtle Society recently granted a Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Donna Shaver, chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore. Shaver has dedicated her life’s work to preserving Kemp’s ridley sea turtles — the most-endangered species of sea turtles in the world. The annual award honors individuals who have had a significant impact on sea turtle biology and conservation throughout their career.

Shaver began working with Kemp ridleys in 1980, after the number of hatchlings declined sharply. The Gulf beaches had seen thousands of nests per year, but in 1985, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nests reached an all-time low, with only 702 in the world.

“It was looking bleak,” Shaver recalled. “I thought they were going to be lost. I became committed.”

Shaver tirelessly leads conservation and recovery efforts. She built the sea turtle program at PINS from the ground up, leading a staff of biologists, seasonal employees and volunteers.

“Everything about this is challenging,” said Shaver, steadfast in her work to preserve and protect Kemp’s ridleys for future generations.

Shaver works around the clock. Throughout the day, she is out in the field rescuing stranded sea turtles and nests. She leads sea turtle releases at the crack of dawn during the summer and rehabilitates cold-stunned sea turtles in the winter.

Over the past three decades, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle populations have sky-rocketed: In 2017, nearly 27,000 nests were recorded.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was officially presented at the ISTS’s 38th International Sea Turtle Symposium in Kobe, Japan, on Feb. 23. Shaver’s former biology professor from Texas A&M University, Dr. David Owens, accepted the award on her behalf.

Shaver was nominated for the award in November when her peers in conservation wrote shining letters of support to the ISTS.

“I am very pleased to support the nomination of Dr. Donna J. Shaver,” wrote Dawn Gardiner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I believe, without a doubt, that Dr. Shaver’s hard work and dedication have contributed greatly to this recovery.”

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