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Terrapins in the classroom

Though much of our conservation work takes place out in the field, we also spend time in classrooms around the region teaching children more about marine life. Terrapins in the Classroom is one of our most successful classroom programs because is combines animal care, research, and field work. The students have  face-to-face interactions with baby diamondback terrapins in an effort to foster respect and stewardship for the Chesapeake Bay. 

Hatchling terrapins are collected from Poplar Island as a part of a research study and distributed to teachers throughout Baltimore City and the surrounding counties.  Students care for the terrapins and collect data on their growth, and at the end of the school year they have the opportunity to go on a field trip to Poplar Island to release the terrapins into their natural marsh habitat.  Research scientists are hoping to prove that this program is mutually beneficial; the children make strong connections with the terrapins and are thus driven to keep the bay they live in clean, and terrapins get a “head start” with a safe place to grow throughout their first winter.  When they are released in the summer, they tend to be notably larger than a wild terrapin of the same age. 

Thirty schools are participating in this program, and it is safe to say that all of the students who even have a passing interaction with the terrapins will find a new purpose in cherishing the Chesapeake.

Continue reading ‘Terrapins in the classroom’

Thoughtful Thursdays: Local Students Release Their Terrapins!

Since September, students from 32 schools across Maryland have cared for baby turtles in their classrooms. Through the National Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program, hatchling diamondback terrapins are collected from Poplar Island in late summer and placed in partner schools. Throughout the year, students gain basic husbandry skills, collect growth data, and learn about the natural history of the Maryland state reptile.

“This is a once in a school-time experience,” said Andrew Hiller, a 5th grader from Naval Academy Primary School.

terrapin release

Thanks to the student’s dutiful care, the terrapins more than doubled in size and were ready to be released! Students and teachers took a boat ride to the island and a tour of the wetlands where the terrapins hatched. After carefully selecting a spot on the edge of the wetland, the students said goodbye to their terrapins and released them into the water.

“It was pretty exciting, letting it go. Even though it was nice having it, it was good to see it go have its own life,” said Matthew Szakmeister, a 2nd grader from Bushy Park Elementary School.

diamondback terrapin

Caring for, learning about, and releasing these turtles creates a unique and important connection between students and the natural world. Through this hands-on approach to conservation, our program hopes to inspire life-long environmental stewardship!

You can do your part to help diamondback terrapins by practicing turtle-safe crabbing this summer! Watch this video to learn how!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6Akh9fNdFI&feature=youtu.be]

Inspiring Conservation in the Classroom and in the Community

National Aquarium’s mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. We incorporate this mission into every aspect of our organization’s work, both inside the building and outside in the community. Here’s a look at some of the many ways we work with the community to conserve:

Local students (from elementary school through college) are involved in a wide variety of programs including our Wetland Nursery and Terrapins in the Classroom programs. Community volunteers assist in cleaning up debris and planting native grasses and trees at several wetland restoration areas.

The Wetland Nursery program involves students potting and caring for wetland plants and trees in wet frame ponds, throughout the school year. A few schools have an extended wet frame pond system linking their ponds to a tank with striped bass.

Students learn valuable planting and resource management skills by building wetland nurseries from scratch!

Students learn valuable planting and resource management skills by building wetland nurseries from scratch!

At the end of the school year, the students travel to sites around the Chesapeake Bay watershed to plant the grasses and trees and release the fish into tributaries. Teachers utilize the plants and fish as teaching tools in lessons as they track their growth and study the model as an example of actual wetland processes.

Our Terrapins in the Classroom program gives hatchling diamond-back terrapins a head start on life in the wild by having students raise them in the classroom. Caring for the terrapins becomes an important part of student life, as one student reflected, “Thank you very much for allowing us to be a major influence in Leo’s life. We have prepared him for the new journey he will embark on.”

A terrapin hatchling

This terrapin hatchling will be released later this year and tracked by the class that took care of it!

Teachers and students track the growth of their terrapin and study the brackish wetland habitats where they are naturally found, linking the impact climate change is having on these areas and the future of these reptiles.

In addition to working closely with students and the local education system, the Aquarium’s conservation department held restoration plantings reaching as far south as Virginia Beach and as close as Baltimore City.

The Masonville Cove shoreline after our summer planting!

The Masonville Cove shoreline after our summer planting!

Along the Patapsco River at Masonville Cove, approximately 100 volunteers came out to plant a half acre with 21,000 native wetland grasses, creating a fringe wetland. This increased the amount of wilderness habitat in the surrounding area, which is largely urban and industrial.

At the nearby Fort McHenry wetland, over 200 species of birds have been counted over the years and they will now benefit from the added habitat in the area. We have been picking up marine debris for over 10 years at this wetland area…it’s one of our most popular volunteer events!

Volunteers out on the beach restoring sand dunes!

Volunteers out on the beach restoring sand dunes!

Sand dunes were restored along the Virginia coastline, as volunteers planted two species of dune grasses along a stretch of coastline at a naval base. During two separate plantings this year, 55,000 grasses were spread over an acre and a half of dunes. Dune fencing was installed to protect the new grasses and give them time to establish a healthy root system, protecting the dunes from eroding or breaching during hurricanes or other strong storms.

Another restoration planting occurred on a naval base just outside of Washington, DC. Almost 46,000 wetland plants and 2,000 trees were planted during separate events along the Potomac River. Since 2008, over 87,000 wetland grasses and trees have been planted at this location!

Conservation Highlights in 2012 by the Numbers:

  • 760 community volunteers
  • 10 acres of wildlife habitat restored
  • 122,597 native grasses and trees planted
  • 21,000 pieces of debris collected and removed
  • 1,642 school children participated in wetland restoration

Terrapins Go Back to School!

As children from across Maryland head back to school, students from 32 schools are welcoming baby turtles to their classrooms!

Through the National Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program, hatchling diamondback turtles are collected from Poplar Island and placed in schools across the state. This year’s terrapins hatched in late July and early August. Aquarium staff cared for them until they began to eat regularly. This week and next week, the terrapins are being delivered to their new schools!

A terrapin hatchling

Students are charged with collecting growth data on the terrapins, observing their behavior, and researching their natural history. Along the way, they learn basic husbandry (animal care) skills and gain a unique connection to the Chesapeake Bay. At the end of the school year, students will release their terrapin back on Poplar Island.

Last school year, Matthew Floyd, an eighth grader from Lime Kiln Middle School, made a special connection with the terrapin at his school. Nicknamed “Leo” by the students, the terrapin was a key component of the school’s special education program. Every day Matt made sure to stop by to check on Leo and feed him. Matt’s experience with Leo taught him about how his actions can impact the environment. “We humans are finally learning from our mistakes, and that means everyone’s happy, including our animal friends,” he said.

This school year, hundreds of students, just like Matt, will develop a meaningful connection with their terrapin. Through this hands-on approach to conservation, the Terrapins in the Classroom program hopes to inspire life-long environmental stewardship.

Students get a closer look at a baby terrapin

The good news is there are many ways that you, too, can help diamondback terrapins! You can do your part by protecting wetlands, helping to ensure trash does not end up in our waterways, and practicing terrapin-safe crabbing!

Tagging terrapins

On any given day you can find most Aquarium staff members working hard inside the Aquarium to keep our animals healthy, our building clean, and our visitors happy. But there are some employees that you will rarely see inside the Aquarium walls. Instead, they are busy working outdoors on the Aquarium’s various conservation programs and projects. So it was a special day when the Conservation team was spotted working on a project indoors at the Aquarium.

Diamondback terrapins waiting to get tagged

On this day, the floor of the lab was lined with buckets of various shapes and sizes, each holding a juvenile Diamondback terrapin. The terrapins are part of a research project we call Terrapins in the Classroom, and on this day, researcher Dr. Willem Roosenburg, from Ohio State University, had the challenging task of implanting a PIT tag into all 30 terrapins.

A passive integrated transponder device, or PIT tag, is a tiny chip that, once implanted into an animal, allows researchers to monitor and identify specific animals over a long period of time. In most cases, the tag will stay with the terrapin for its entire life, allowing Dr. Roosenburg to track the animal’s specific location, movement, and abundance in a certain area. Upon recapture or return for nesting in future years, terrapins are scanned for tags and the growth data are compared to information collected in the classroom. In this effort, students are part of relevant, cutting-edge research that is focused on the conservation of the species.

PIT tags are tiny chips that are implanted into the terrapins to allow researchers to monitor and identify each animal.

Each year, hatchling terrapins are collected from Poplar Island as part of a research study and distributed to teachers throughout Baltimore City and the surrounding counties. With the help of the Aquarium’s Conservation team, students care for the terrapins and collect data on their growth; at the end of the school year, they have the opportunity to go on a field trip to Poplar Island to release the terrapins into their natural marsh habitat.

Research scientists are hoping to prove that this program is mutually beneficial; the children make strong connections with the terrapins and are thus driven to protect the terrapins’ bay habitat, and terrapins get a “head start” with a safe environment to grow during their first winter. When they are released in the summer, they tend to be notably larger than a wild terrapin of the same age. Currently, 30 schools are involved in the program.

It was a busy day inside for the Conservation team, but they will soon be outside again, this time helping the students release the tagged terrapins on Poplar Island. According to our Conservation team, the release day always brings mixed emotions for the students. They are excited for their terrapins to begin the next part of their lives in their natural habitat, but also sad to say goodbye to the friend they’ve cared for each day.

However they’re feeling, though, each student who participates in the Terrapins in the Classroom program leaves with a new love for the Diamondback terrapin and a new-found sense of stewardship for the Chesapeake Bay habitat.

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