A Field Season of Fun: Reflections of a Conservation Educator

posted in: Local Conservation, Turtles | 0

This week’s blog post is a season retrospective from our Conservation Educator, Marike Voysey

A smiling white woman with brown hair in a ponytail over her shoulder holds a brown snake between her hands while smiling at the camera. Behind her is a forested slope leading down to a river,
Conservation Educator Marike Voysey with a northern water snake.

A collective gasp rippled across the group of 11 year olds gathered tightly in the woods. One of the kids held a container with two small turtles, and they too tilted their heads in quiet, reptilian curiosity. Even the red-winged blackbirds ceased their morning churring.

Trees leaned in closer.
The breeze held its breath.
The rustling reeds stilled to attention.

Something large and heavy sagged in the passive trap I held up between my outstretched arms, swamp water still dripping from it onto the forest floor. An unrecognizable lump…but a hint of claws…a scaly, archaic tail writhed and lashed…a beady eye rolled to me, and then rolled to survey the audience.

“Is that…?” One little kid finally breathed.

“A SNAPPING TURTLE!” The protocol raised hands was all but forgotten and the suspenseful intrigue on the children’s faces morphed into excitement and glee. The school teacher and parent chaperones on the field trip could hardly hold back the gyrating mass of fifth graders. But I approached with mirrored enthusiasm, because it really was a treat to see such a spectacular creature on a fine Tuesday morning at Moore’s Swamp in Concord.

A white woman in chest waders and a blue Zoo New England ball cap carefully holds a snapping turtle up for a class of children to see.
Marike shows a snapping turtle to students on a field trip.

It really was a treat to share the amazement of meeting swamp denizens with a group of brilliant kids, and to reward those kids with a special field trip after they had fulfilled the incredible responsibility of rearing two local, endangered turtle hatchings into healthy juveniles for nine months in their classroom.

Threatened Blanding’s turtles raised in classrooms returned to the wilderness with bittersweet goodbyes during the “Turtle Release” field trips: from May to June 2023, more than 25 schools and over 1500 kids came on these educational, outdoor field trips where they learnt all about their endangered turtles’ habitat and also met many of their turtles’ neighbors. Children could see what their turtles would be eating and even where the turtles could be laying their own eggs in 18 years

Across various areas of Boston, school children ranging from third to fifth graders successfully raised little 10g hatchlings (the size of a quarter coin!) of the threatened Blanding turtles for 9 months. These classroom turtles grew into individuals that were the same size as their 4 year-old wild counterparts! The number of perilous predators that could harm these turtles in the wild significantly decreased thanks to the valiant efforts from schools. In fact, those Blanding turtles now have a 40 times greater chance of survival to reproductive age compared to non-headstarted hatchlings. Amazing!

A hand with blue-edged nails holds two palm-sized baby Blanding's turtles up against a backdrop of swamp. In the background on shore, dozens of students wave enthusiastically to the turtles.
Several excited classes wave farewell to their two headstarted Blanding’s turtles before release.

These classroom turtles are referred to as headstarts because the young conservationists gave their turtles a phenomenal headstart to their wildlife. Blanding turtles can live well over 80 years!

As the Seasonal Conservation Educator for 2023, I want to thank each school, teacher, chaperone and child that came on these fun field trips over the spring and summer. Thank you for your dedication and enthusiasm. You did it! You significantly helped a threatened turtle species! You are conservationists and I am so proud of you!