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Shedd Researcher Awarded “Conservation Champion” By Bahamas National Trust

In the Inaugural Awards, Dr. Charles Knapp Honored for Efforts to Study and Preserve Critical Habitat for Iconic Bahamian Iguanas and Other Local Species

November 12, 2020

Dr. Chuck Knapp holds an Exuma rock iguana captured in the Bahamas during an Iguana Research Expedition.

Shedd Aquarium Vice President of Conservation Research Dr. Charles Knapp was honored with a “Conservation Champion Award” by the Council of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) amidst the organization’s 60th anniversary celebrations. Hosted for the first time this year, the Conservation Champions & Legends Awards highlight nearly 60 individuals who have helped to preserve and protect the unique biodiversity and natural beauty of The Bahamas over the past 60 years. Knapp’s conservation efforts in The Bahamas stretch back more than 25 years, focusing primarily on the study and preservation of populations of endangered Bahamian rock iguanas across the archipelago.  

A total of 37 “Conservation Champions” were recognized as environmental guardians who have demonstrated passion and a commitment to the protection of wildlife, ecosystems and research, while raising awareness of important present-day environmental issues. A total of 22 “Conservation Legends” were recognized as outstanding leaders, visionaries, and pioneers in Bahamian conservation whose actions have contributed to the creation of The Bahamas national park system, the creation of The Bahamas National Trust as the manager of those parks, and the protection of ecosystems that are vital to the nation.  

"The Bahamas is a global leader in environmental conservation, and this could not have been achieved without Dr. Charles Knapp’s time and talents to champion causes for the environment," said Geoffrey Andrews, president of the Bahamas National Trust. "His service has been of great benefit to The Bahamas and we congratulate him for his conservation achievements." 

Supported by Shedd Aquarium, Knapp has been working in The Bahamas since 1994, initially focusing on iguana research, educational outreach and building capacity for iguana conservation in the local Bahamas community. Throughout his career, he has involved Bahamian stakeholders in all aspects of the work, such as bringing Bahamians to research sites with him to learn about and help conduct research, including entire classrooms from schools in the Exumas and Andros.  

By collaborating with the Bahamian community, Knapp’s efforts resulted in the expansion of the West Side National Park to benefit the Andros rock iguana—a species threatened by invasive species and poaching. The new boundaries of that protected land were determined in partnership with the BNT, using Knapp’s scientific research.  

“Such an award speaks to Dr. Charles Knapp’s passion and ongoing commitment to preserve biodiversity no matter if it’s in our backyard in Chicago or on an island in The Bahamas.”

Dr. Bridget Coughlin, president and CEO of Shedd Aquarium

Today, Knapp has focused his conservation efforts on studying the effects of tourism on endangered Exuma rock iguana populations, while advocating for practices that will make the industry sustainable for both people and wildlife. Further, he has advocated for and established a team of conservation biologists at Shedd Aquarium to conduct research on coralconch, lobster, grouper and sharks in Bahamian waters that informs conservation management of these critical species and helps paint a more holistic picture of the health of the entire ecosystem. Recent results from his team involving conch have sparked country-wide conversations about how to protect the long-term viability of the fishery and provided evidence to government officials to make informed management decisions.   

“Such an award speaks to Dr. Charles Knapp’s passion and ongoing commitment to preserve biodiversity no matter if it’s in our backyard in Chicago or on an island in The Bahamas,” said Dr. Bridget Coughlin, president and CEO of Shedd Aquarium. “Charles has played a pivotal role in leading Shedd Aquarium’s conservation and research initiatives in the Caribbean and Great Lakes region and has long been a champion for the conservation of wildlife. The entire team at Shedd Aquarium congratulates Charles on this well-deserved accolade.”  

Knapp began working at Shedd as an 18-year-old volunteer, and three years later, he was hired as an aquarist. As a Shedd aquarist, he worked with marine fishes of the Caribbean, and was introduced for the first time to rock iguanas under his care. This work sparked his passion for iguanas, ultimately leading Knapp toward a career studying and safeguarding them. 

“I am deeply humbled by this award,” said Knapp. “I thank Shedd Aquarium for putting their faith in a budding conservationist almost 30 years ago, and for all my friends and colleagues in The Bahamas who I have had the privilege of working alongside for so many years.” 

Knapp has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed journal publications and book chapters. He is co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Iguana Specialist Group, assessor of three species for the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species and a science advisor to the BNT. Knapp also teaches marine and island ecology of The Bahamas to college students enrolled in a Shedd-based program with the Associated Colleges of the Chicago Area. 

Knapp received his Ph.D. and M.S. in wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida and was a conservation research postdoctoral fellow with the Institute for Conservation Research at the San Diego Zoo. 

For more information about Dr. Charles Knapp’s iguana research, visit Shedd’s website here.  

VISUALS: Photos from Dr. Charles Knapp’s research endeavors in The Bahamas are available for download:
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium