Baldwin High School class raising money for turtle tagging trip to Gulf
Before last spring, Baldwin High School senior Adam Withers had never been on an airplane or seen the ocean, much less considered marine biology as a profession.
That changed when he traveled early last June to the Florida Gulf Coast with other members of Scott Crenshaw’s Baldwin High School college biology class to help tag nesting loggerhead turtles.
Crenshaw said he had doubts when he approached the Baldwin school board in the fall of 2012 about taking his students to Florida to the turtle tagging effort, but he pitched it as a possible life-changing experience for Kansas youngsters like Withers.
“It rocked his world,” Crenshaw said. “When will our Kansas kids get the chance to see something like this?”
The trip was the highlight of his junior year, Withers said. The experience convinced Withers to study marine biology in college, and Crenshaw is helping him check out different Florida universities that offer the major.
With the success of last year’s trip, the board approved Crenshaw returning with this year’s college biology class from June 2 through 9 to Manasota Key, about 45 miles south of Tampa Bay. Twelve of the 17 students in the class plan to take the trip.
Baldwin High School senior Austin Chapman said the trip played a role in his decision to take the course. He is considering majoring in biology in college but not marine biology, Chapman said. “That was true last year, too, before the trip,” Crenshaw said.
The board approved the trip but not any money for it. The students have had a number of fundraisers this year, with the biggest still to come. Crenshaw said the students will have a barbecue dinner fundraiser during the Baldwin High School Winter Sports basketball games Feb. 7 at the Baldwin Junior High School gymnasium. Crenshaw said those wanting to donate for the trip may contact him at email@example.com.
The students will arrive about a month into the loggerhead’s nesting season, when 200- to 400-pound females drag themselves out of the Gulf to lay eggs in nests they dig in the sand.
Although there will probably be loggerhead’s to see and tag, there’s no guarantee the students will see the endangered animals as last year's class did, Crenshaw said. That class also spotted a nesting green turtle, a less colorful and rarer sea turtle that also nests in the area, he said.
The students will hit the beach at 5 a.m., tasked with marking the loggerheads’ nests and digging up every third one to account for false nests, Crenshaw said. They 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.
The female loggerheads, which can be as long as 3 feet, are pretty indifferent about having humans around or tagging them, Withers said.
“They might hiss at you if you get in front of them,” he said.
Senior Hannah Hutton said she was excited about another activity on the trip’s itinerary, a visit to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation.
Crenshaw said the students would spend a morning at the center, which was a breeding center for the endangered Asian elephant and retirement home for circus elephants.
Brittnay George noted all those going on the trip were seniors, many of whom didn’t know each other well before enrolling in the class. The trip would allow them to draw closer before going their separate ways, she said.
“That certainly happened last year,” Crewshaw said. “It was quite a bonding experience. There were some real tearful goodbyes at the end of the trip.”