Spotila's research interests are centered in the areas of environmental science, physiological and biophysical ecology, fisheries biology and ichthyology and conservation biology. He is an expert in the physiological and population ecology of sea turtles.
A pioneer in the field of sea turtle research, Spotila has made key contributions to the understanding of their physiology and behavior, and brought awareness to the threats they face. He was part of the team that attached a transmitter to a sea turtle for the first time, was first to recognize the impending disappearance of the leatherbacks from the Pacific Ocean and the first to document the connection between sex determination and nest temperature.
In 2005, Spotila published the award-winning illustrated book Sea Turtles: A complete guide to their biology, behavior and conservation and donated all proceeds from sales to The Leatherback Trust. He is a professor of environmental science at Drexel and director of its Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. He worked in the Clinton Administration as Chief Environmental Scientist for the Department of the Army.
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