Meet our Staff

Wendy Knight

Executive Director  | wendy.knight@seaturtleinc.org |

 I joined Sea Turtle, Inc. in 2020 bringing 25 years of corporate experience as an executive in the insurance market,specializing in acquisitions, sales, revenue building, marketing and operational execution. I am an honors graduate from the University of Texas at Dallas and secured my Masters degree in International Business. My husband Mark and I are residents of South Padre Island and have witnessed the passion and commitment of the Sea Turtle, Inc. organization first hand. This drew me to the team and I am excited to join the ranks to protect and conserve these beautiful creatures.

Over the next few years we will be working as a team to take Sea Turtle, Inc. to the next level. We will build upon the strong passion and service minded focus of the organization to further engage in the education and rehabilitation of this endangered species. What that means is we will be increasing our use of technology, virtual engagement and online retail as well as medical and research advancements to continue to make a meaningful impact on sea turtle conservation. 

My favorite sea turtle is the Loggerhead. My first experience in the hospital at Sea Turtle, Inc. involved a surgery on a loggerhead and since then they have been dear to my heart. The size and grace of these majestic creatures just continues to amaze and astound me. 

 

Amy Bonka, Ph.D.

 

Chief Conservation Officer | amy.bonka@seaturtleinc.org |

I grew up with a love of the marine environment and coastal ecosystems, and I pursued that passion as I obtained my Bachelors of Science in Biology with a concentration in marine science. Following graduation, I spent several nesting seasons working with Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. I was inspired by this work to focus on the Kemp’s ridley during my graduate school studies, and obtained my Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in biology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. My research was focused on the ecology, biology, and conservation of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the state sea turtle of Texas! I am especially interested in the dynamics of arribada nesting, the mass nesting events that occur in Kemp’s ridley (and Olive ridley) sea turtles, as well as hatchling biology. Sea Turtle, Inc. has had a great presence in the sea turtle community for many years, and I am excited to be a part of this amazing team!

My role as the Chief Conservation Officer is to oversee the conservation and rehabilitation of our sea turtles. I look forward to growing our conservation and research presence throughout the community. I will be working closely with our Executive Director and the conservation and rehabilitation department heads to help take Sea Turtle, Inc. to the next level of conservation and research, and am so excited about our future!

My favorite species of sea turtle is the Kemp’s ridley. After seeing hundreds of these turtles coming ashore to nest, I knew that I had to be a part of their conservation and research! The unique behaviors of this species continue to capture my attention and I find them fascinating! They also have a unique disposition that I love!

Karen Pfeiffer

 

Giftshop Manager | karen.pfeiffer@seaturtleinc.org |

I’m so stoked to be a part of the Sea Turtle, Inc. family! I’ve been a local since 1978 and raised two beautiful children here! You will rarely find me at the facility without an armload of t-shirts & stuffed animals! When I’m not working, I’m either surfing, fishing, or keeping up with my baby Melo, the Double Yellow Headed Amazon.

I love the Loggerheads because one day when I was surfing, there was a big Loggerhead following me on my board. It kept popping its head up for air and I kept trying to paddle away but it stayed right behind me. I was in awe of how big its head was! They sure do live up to their names!

Khrystyne Jamerson

Education Director | khrystyne.jamerson@seaturtleinc.org | Certified Interpretive Guide (NAI)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for wildlife and the outdoors and knew that a career in this field would be a dream come true! I grew up in Killeen, Texas and completed my B.S. in Wildlife Biology at Texas State University. I had an opportunity to go to Costa Rica in 2008 on a sea turtle volunteer program and from that moment on, I was hooked! I first came to Sea Turtle, Inc. in 2014 as an intern and experienced so many amazing things. I am excited to return as an Educator and to help spread awareness about sea turtle conservation with all of you! When I’m not working, you can find me out on my paddleboard with my dogs, Harley and Riley.

Favorite Sea Turtle Species: My favorite species of sea turtles would have to be the Leatherbacks since they were the first species I ever worked with. I was able to see hatchlings in Costa Rica, and finally got to see nesting mamas in Ghana in 2016 which was a dream come true!

Rachel LeCates

Environmental Educator | education@seaturtleinc.org |

My name is Rachel LeCates and I was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I moved to York, Pennsylvania when I was eight years old. My love for science and the environment started at an early age. I distinctly remember reading Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in 7th grade and deciding, “I gotta do something about this!” I graduated with a B.S. in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. One of those semesters I studied in the Galapagos Islands; this experience cemented my passion for conservation and transformed my perspective on the relationship between humans and their environment. In 2019, I was both a summer and winter intern here at Sea Turtle Inc. I was then hired as a staff member in the education department in January of 2020. I am delighted to continue working with sea turtles and this amazing organization!

Favorite sea turtle species: I truly love them all but I have a soft spot for greens only because they’re the first species I encountered in the wild. I also particularly enjoy their adorable, grumpy faces. 

Jean Pettit

Administrative Assistant | jean.pettit@seaturtleinc.org | 

After finding a nest as a volunteer foot patroller, the Kemp’s ridley captured my heart and set everything in motion. I became totally bonded to the Sea Turtle, Inc. mission and saw firsthand that conservation really does make a difference.

As a Texas Master Naturalist and Certified Interpretive Guide (NAI), I enjoy seeing the connection visitors make with our resident turtles. By helping to enrich their experience, our message travels across the country. Their joy, enthusiasm and interest in sea turtles and what we do, are making a difference on a daily basis.

Favorite Sea Turtle Species: The Kemp’s ridley brought me to the “dance” but each of the five species in the Gulf of Mexico has a special place in my heart.

Kathryn Martinez

Assistant Giftshop Manager | kathryn.martinez@seaturtleinc.org |

I was born in Holland Michigan and raised in Port Isabel, by a single father. I’ve known South Padre Island’s waters all my life. I have always had a fascination with the wild life this area has to offer as it is very diverse. 

After graduating high school I moved northward to Dallas, Texas where I lived for twelve years and though I loved it, home always calls you back. I am extremely happy that my son and daughter will gain great enjoyment from this area as I did. Nothing beats a walk on the beach and sea turtles hatching nearby.

I immensely believe in the conservation of not only our lands but also our coastal ecosystem. After 20 years in retail/customer service, I finally found an opportunity to contribute to both my passions. It is a wonderful feeling to be part of something that makes a difference to wildlife and connecting with people. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but have you ever looked deep into a sea turtle’s eyes? 

Favorite Sea Turtle Species: I have never been able to choose a specific turtle. I have always been fascinated with all species, but I do believe the Kemp’s Ridley holds a special place in my heart as it is the turtle we grew up coming in contact with. FYI, did you know that the Kemp’s Ridley females nest in South Padre Island? 

Mariana Devlin

Conservation Coordinator | mariana.devlin@seaturtleinc.org | 

I had the honor of being an intern for Sea Turtle, Inc. in the summers of 2009 and 2010 as I worked for my Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from Texas A&M University in College Station. After my graduation, I worked in Costa Rica as a research field assistant in the Osa Peninsula where I fell in love with sea turtles even more. Upon my return to the US, I lived in Corpus Christi for 2 years while I obtained my Master’s degree in Environmental Science from TAMUCC, and I spent another 2 years working as a 7th grade Life Science and 8th grade Biology teacher. I love my job at Sea Turtle, Inc and always look forward to nesting season.  

 Favorite Sea Turtle Species: I love all sea turtles but I will always have a soft spot for the Kemp’s ridley and Olive ridley since I have been directly involved in their conservation efforts.

Mary Duncan

Volunteer Coordinator | volunteer@seaturtleinc.org |

I am from St. Louis, MO, and have wanted to work with sea turtles since I was in first grade! I have my Bachelor’s degree in Biology from NWMSU which included classes in Mexico and Australia to learn more about the sea turtles and marine life. Since then I have worked with the sea turtles in various places around the world, and I am super excited to share my experience with all of you here!

Favorite Sea Turtle: Leatherbacks are my favorite! Their anatomy and physiology are the most interesting, allowing them to migrate the farthest and dive the deepest. Though the leatherbacks are my favorite, I am super excited to be in the home of the Kemp’s Ridley, the most critically endangered of all the sea turtles!

Sanjuana Zavala

Marketing & PR Manager | sanjuana.zavala@seaturtleinc.org | 

I’m a Rio Grande Valley girl, graduate of University of Texas at Brownsville. I live with my husband Bart and my two daughters, in Brownsville. I believe fiercely in giving back and also that everything and anything can be solved with proper communication skills. I want to utilize those skills to help maximize the efficiency of Sea Turtle, Inc. who has the greater good in mind.

 Favorite Sea Turtle Species: I love all sea turtles but I will always have a soft spot for the Kemp’s ridley since they are our state sea turtle.

Nina Nahvi

Licensed Veterinary Technician | nina.nahvi@seaturtleinc.org |

I graduated from Humboldt State University in 2011 with a B.S. in Wildlife Conservation and Management. After graduation, I visited the big island of Hawaii and swam with green sea turtles. That experience led me to pursue working with these incredible creatures. It was during my internship at Sea Turtle, Inc. in 2012 that I realized what I wanted to do with my life – obtain my Veterinary Technician license so I could one day make a living by medically treating and rehabilitating wildlife.

In the time that has lapsed since my internship, I went to Vet Tech school, interned at the Dallas Zoo, spent a nesting season working with Hawksbills in Hawaii, and worked at a sea turtle hospital in the Florida Keys. Now everything has come full circle as I am back on the island where it all started, and I am so happy to be a part of the Sea Turtle, Inc. family again.

Favorite Sea Turtle: Atlantic greens. They are the most chill and the only species that can all hang out together in one tank and get along. I think humans could learn a thing or two from greens!

Christopher Gorman

Rehabilitation Specialist | chris.gorman@seaturtleinc.org | 

I graduated with a B.S. in Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity from UC Davis. I’ve always had a passion for working with wild animals and knew from a young age that I would follow my dream to make it a career. 2016 was an amazing summer when I worked at the Oakland Zoo as the commissary/night keeper intern. I worked with some truly amazing animals including baboons, elephants, tigers, tortoises, sun bears, and giraffes, as well as many other species. The fall seasons of 2016 and 2017 were spent working for Ducks Unlimited out in the Sacramento Valley. I started at Sea Turtle, Inc. in the summer of 2017 as a summer intern, and continued through the winter as a rehabilitation intern. Since being at Sea Turtle, Inc. I’ve been able to work with Kemp’s ridleys, Atlantic greens, hawksbills, loggerheads, and even a leatherback! I’ve had some amazing adventures here at Sea Turtle, Inc. and I love my position in the hospital as the rehabilitation specialist.

 Favorite Sea Turtle Species: Kemp’s ridley. They are the feistiest of the turtles and look like modern-day dinosaurs. I love watching them hunt blue crabs (their favorite live prey).

Maria Watson

Aquarist| maria.watson@seaturtleinc.org |

I was born and raised in Beaufort, South Carolina. My family immersed me into the coastal lifestyle (shrimping, crabbing, fishing, watching native wildlife, and doing beach clean ups), which is where I grew my love for our ocean and environment. That love continued as I received my Bachelors degree in Marine Science in Jacksonville University, Florida. During college, I pinpointed that I wanted to work in a rehab setting, particularly with sea turtles. My affinity for sea turtles grew when I became a rehab intern at Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center in NC. That internship changed my life internship, I started the “I Skip the Straw” campaign from Ocean Conservancy on my campus and now our campus is completely straw free, excluding one of the outside restaurants! (All for the turtles & spreading awareness!) 

After college, I started my career at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens in education. I interned through their manatee rehabilitation which deepened my passion for rehab. I then became an Aquatics Keeper, where I was in charge of 4 species of stingrays and Lionfish. 

Favorite Sea Turtle: I am beyond excited to be here as the new aquarist and spending my days around the sea turtles and coworkers that carry the same love for them too! My favorite sea turtles has to be the loggerhead. I think the patterns on their heads look like cinnamon rolls and that is what makes them so sweet!

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