Students take pride in contributing to turtle conservation
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 participating in the project in 2011
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. I never thought before that I had the potential to do anything. I used to be that person that just stood back and watched.
I now realize that I have the potential to do great things, and not be that spectator watching the world make mistakes. I can actually make a difference. So many people today have the mindset that they can just sit back, relax and let the world move for them. If everybody thought like that, this world would be a big mess. It’s because of people like us here at the head-start program that this world keeps turning. I am so proud to be considered as one of those people, and if it wasn’t for this project, I may never have been one of them.
This experience has made the biggest difference in my life; it was both fulfilling and educational. It helped me see the true value in myself and the importance of working as a group.
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. I was happy to see the turtles finally in their habitat, where they will be part of a new population at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. It’s exciting to see how they have grown. We learned a lot thanks to these little turtles and working with them.
We’re more ready than most to work out in the field after we graduate high school and college since we have some experience. I’ll miss them, but they’re right where they belong now, and hopefully, they’re all doing well. It’s a lot of fun to help raise the turtles, and I’m sure the next group of kids to head-start them will have a lot of fun too.
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. No other high school does this, which makes me extremely grateful that I have had this opportunity to work with such amazing animals. You find yourself getting excited when it’s the day to weigh and measure them. When I weighed them and they gained a few grams, I got excited, and when they grew a few millimeters, I was amazed.
Letting them go was a little sad. I was thinking that we would not be able to see them every day, but remembering the fact that we helped start a new population of these turtles makes it all worth the tiny bit of sadness. Watching them swim away in the home where they belong gave me an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I will never forget this project.
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. It was worth it, because one day they will get old enough and make clutches (nests of eggs) for future classes or thrive again.
This project made me feel special, like I could do anything I set my mind to. Maybe I will participate in a project much larger than this in the future. I know I can succeed if I work hard enough towards my goal.I am happy to have worked on this project, to interact with wildlife like I have never done before. My parents were so proud of me when I told them about the project and going to the release. If I had the chance to do this head-start program again, I would leap at the chance. It was a wonderful experience for me and I will never forget it.
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. That enthusiasm and investment will spill over into countless conversations they have in the future with peers, family, and maybe even a few complete strangers…and so the story will continue to be told.
Brian Bastarache is a mentor to these students. He finds a way to integrate the turtle head-starting into so many facets of the school curriculum. The students learn the importance of taking careful notes, of entering and analyzing data, and determining what you can (and can’t) conclude from these data. He challenges the students to think, ask questions, find answers and rethink.This is why we got so many great questions on the release day! And this is why these students will make a difference in conservation in the future.