Baldwin High School biology students planning trip to help save sea turtles
The appearance of a desert tortoise moseying about their classroom before returning to the warmth of the sunlamp in its cage might inspire students in Scott Crenshaw’s advanced-placement biology class to think about a coming trip of their own to a warmer place.
A majority of the students will travel late this spring to help a relative of the tortoise. Students Adam Withers, Cate Gwin, Audrey Osborn, Samantha Weiss, Bailey Smith, Jessie Katzer, Katie Kehl, Jessie Katzer and Heidi Halford will travel with Crenshaw and chaperons to the Gulf Coast from May 29 through June 3 to help with efforts to expand the numbers of endangered sea turtles.
It may sound like a vacation, but Crenshaw insists the students will be preoccupied with educational pursuits during their time at Manasoto Key, Fla., which is about 45 minutes south of Tampa.
The primary purpose of the trip will be to help collect information during the annual nesting of the sea turtles. Crenshaw said the students will arrive at Manasota Key during the loggerhead turtles’ nesting period and will be tasked with tagging mothers as they make their way to nesting sites and marking the sites of new nests. Females, which reach about 3 feet in length and weigh from 200 to 400 pounds, return to their nesting beaches every two to four years to lay eggs in anywhere from four to seven nests during the season.
“We will be working with the Coastal Wildlife Club,” Crenshaw said. “Very few organizations get permission to tag the turtles, so we are very fortunate to go on this trip.”
The students will be on the beach at 5 a.m. looking for new nesting sites to mark and will return later in the day to tag the flippers of adult mothers or epoxy GPS tracking devices to the backs of a select few.
When not involved with the turtle project, the students will walk the beach looking for fossilized shark teeth and visit a marine museum, Crenshaw said.
The idea for the trip stemmed from Crenshaw’s sharing his turtle tagging experiences with the students.
‘We asked him, ‘Why can’t the class go?’” senior Heidi Halford said. “Mr. Crenshaw went to the Board of Education last fall and got permission for us to go.”
Other commitments are preventing some students from going, but those who are making the trip have been busy raising money. The latest effort was a BBQ fundraiser at Friday’s Baldwin High School boys basketball game.
“Our goal is $7,000,” Crenshaw said Friday before the fundraiser. “The trip costs $610 for each student. We’ve raised $3,000. They have been working hard to raise the money.”
Anyone who would like to make a contribution for the trip can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, Crenshaw said.
Junior Sarah Gibbs said she hoped to witness the results of the nesting.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the mothers find their nests, but I’d really like to see the hatchlings make their way to the sea,” she said. “That would be wonderful if we get to see that.”
That probably won’t happen because the students will be in Florida about a month into the nesting season, and it takes about 60 days for the eggs to hatch.
Still, Crenshaw said one or more of the students might witness a life-altering experience on the trip.
“They’ll have a chance to learn something more than they can get out of a textbook in a place many of them have never seen,” he said. “They could decide to spend the rest of their life studying the ocean like most of us wish we could.”