Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Students take pride in contributing to turtle conservation

Today, wildlife biologist Stephanie Koch and four high school students share their reflections on raising and releasing rare Blanding’s turtles as part of an experimental head-starting program.

This medium-sized freshwater turtle inhabits wetlands in parts of the upper Midwest, New York, New England and southern Canada. Throughout the Northeast, populations appear to be declining. More

Bristol County Agricultural High School students have partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others to help nurture Blanding’s turtles, considered threatened in Massachusetts, and later release them with a greater likelihood of survival at Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge in Sudbury, Mass.

The program, intended to establish a new population at the refuge, involves collecting hatchlings in the wild, raising them in captivity and releasing them back in the wild when the turtles are large enough to survive most predation. Head-start programs are one of many tools that the Service considers in the conservation of species like the Blanding's turtle.

Over the last three years, Bristol Aggie teacher Brian Bastarache and Stephanie have led students in releasing more than 150 turtles. This year's release was on May 23.

“These young adults will hopefully be the future advocates for natural resource protection,” Stephanie said. “They will be our conservation leaders. Many of these students won't ever forget this project, and they've realized the difference a single person can make, and that's perhaps the most long-lasting benefit of this endeavor.”

Students and turtles
Students preparing to release turtles in 2011. Credit: Keith Shannon/USFWS

*Click "More," and additional thoughts from that student will open in the blog.*

Emily Faulkner, student: Being a part of this Blanding’s turtle head-start program here at Bristol Aggie has taught me so much – and not just about this species. I never knew there was such a thing as a Blanding’s turtle. I learned much more about myself, as well. More

Ashleigh Dernier, student: It was sad when we released them, because it might have been the last time we will ever see them. We would not be able to feed them, weigh them or measure them every week anymore. More

One last check on a Blanding's turtle before release.
Credit: Keith Shannon/USFWS
Alexandra Lopes, student: I often hear of how no other high school gets the chance to work with rare turtles or be the ones to release them back into their natural habitat to begin a new population. Talking to kids from other high schools I realize that everyone who said that is right. More

Kendra Espinola, student: The Blanding’s turtle head-start program made me realize I can make a difference in the world. I enjoyed every second I had with the turtles our class raised. The heart-breaking part was to let them go after raising them for several months. More

Stephanie Koch, biologist: It has been such a pleasure meeting the students through the years and seeing their excitement, enthusiasm, and yes, sadness, on release day. But their sadness is a true testament for how hard they have worked, and how invested they are in the conservation effort. More

The students look at a snapping turtle found while releasing the Blanding's turtles. Credit: Keith Shannon/USFWS

  • Blanding's turtles head-start release (video)
  • Bristol County Agricultural High School gives 'threatened' turtles a head start in life (news story)
  •  Blanding's turtle conservation in the Northeast (website)

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