Amplifying alumni: Lindsey Flynn educates community to protect turtles

USF alum Lindsey Flynn received her bachelor’s degree in biology in 2007 and studied for a master’s degree in marine science. ORACLE PHOTO/LEAH MEYER

Lindsey Flynn, manager of the Sea Turtle Conservation Program at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), was drawn to sea life long before her time at USF.

“I started volunteering with the firm conviction that I was going to be a dolphin trainer one day. As soon as I started [working with] turtles, I was like, ‘Nevermind.’” Flynn said. 

Flynn graduated from USF in 2007 with her bachelor’s degree in biology before earning her master’s in marine science in 2012. 

After over 10 years of working at CMA, Flynn said many of her professional skills can be attributed to the quality of her education and professors at USF.

Flynn credits the marine science master’s program with improving her technical writing, giving her realistic expectations of her field and teaching her professional independence. She said this has helped in her current management role. 

She said USF’s promotion of proper technical and scientific writing prepared her to write technical reports for counties and statewide agencies. 

Her journey at CMA began before she graduated from USF when she started volunteering.

“At the time, the best way to get hands-on experience was to start in the turtle department. So that’s what I did, and I decided that I really loved sea turtles after that,” Flynn said.

She said she realized the weight of her impact when a sea turtle was rehabilitated at CMA and released back into the wild. Getting the chance to see the direct influence of her work was a crucial moment for her.

Now, Flynn’s managerial role brings many more responsibilities into her hands.

Flynn is responsible for all work CMA does in monitoring sea turtle nests. They oversee roughly 21 miles of beaches in Pinellas county daily from April through October. 

After the eggs hatch, Flynn and her team dig up the nests’ contents to take inventory and submit the data to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

James Powell, Flynn’s supervisor and chief zoological officer at CMA, said Flynn leads by example and is respected by the community and her peers.

“You talk to other staff members and [Flynn] probably doesn’t even realize how respected she is, not only by the people that work with her and for her… but also in the public. I very often get comments back [like] ‘That woman, Lindsey, she is incredible,’” Powell said.

The work Flynn and her team do relates directly to the marine ecosystem and the survival of the sea turtle population considering many outside threats, such as artificial lighting.

The artificial light from parking lots and pools attract the hatchlings, causing them to drift from their natural habitats and instead finding themselves in beachfront properties. 

Flynn also works in protecting a portion of Florida beaches vital to the existence of the Loggerhead turtles.

Florida is one of the two primary locations for the Loggerhead species. Flynn said the population of the turtles is currently decreasing outside of the state, making it one of most important nesting sites.

If the Florida nesting population is threatened, the entire world could be affected, Flynn said.

“It’s really important we do everything that we can to protect all these nests because we could potentially be affecting the global population of this species,” she said.

Flynn said her team also devotes great attention to informing the community about wildlife mindfulness when using the beach.

The aquarium hosts a “Sea Turtle Awareness Day” event yearly at the start of nesting season, where patrons are able to learn about the importance of sea turtle conservation and details about the work. 

“We need to change people’s behaviors [and] mindsets, and challenge the way that they think about how they utilize the beach. That was a big challenge for me because that’s not what I was expecting to do in this job. But I find getting people to participate when I can has been really rewarding,” Flynn said. 

Powell said Flynn’s devotion to raising this understanding and awareness is clear through her driven work ethic.

“It is individuals like Lindsey who are so dedicated, so passionate and knowledgeable that have the ability to understand the nesting behavior and turn that scientific knowledge aligned with her passion into effective conservation action,” Powell said.

“It takes people like her to [help others] understand what they can do to better protect the turtles.”

While Flynn has known for a long time that she would pursue a career in the marine sciences, it didn’t come to fruition without great dedication and determination. 

“Be willing to do the work… be persistent. If you want something bad enough and you’re willing to work hard for it, you will get [it],” Flynn said.