Project Sea Turtle underway on Island beaches
SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
Maia Cary, left, granddaughter of
island resident Sue Cary, Noah Brindley, Chase Spencer, Kaitlin Alvarez
and McKenna Subbarao create a model of a beach to learn why more male
turtles born in Virginia and more females born in Florida.
It’s 8 a.m. when the campers from Project Sea Turtle pile out of their bus and onto the beach at 34th Street in Holmes Beach. They’re ready to help record and verify the turtle nest deposited on the beach during the overnight hours.
"It’s a loggerhead," said Kelley Ainsworth who is 10 years old.
You can tell by the tracks," Morgan Larkin added.
"Look at how smooth the carapace makes the sand in between the tracks of the flippers," McKenna Subbarao chimed in.
The kids are fluent in turtle. That’s clear.
There’s no hesitation as they define the parameters of the upland barrier.
"It’s where the vegetation begins," Kelley Ainsworth points out.
The kids are campers in the first session of Knowledge Learning Corporation’s Project Sea Turtle — a sort of environmental and ecological science experience for kids that focuses on the ecology of the Island and on the lives of the five species of sea turtles.
"We get mostly loggerheads here," said Maia Cary.
Maia and her friend, Chase Spencer, live in Apollo Beach, but this week they are visiting Maia’s grandmother, Sue Cary.
"Loggerheads have big heads," said Chase. "They’re named for their big heads that look sorta like logs when you see them in the water."
After measuring the length of the turtle’s crawl from out of the water to the nest, the kids watched as their counselor, Susan Camp and junior counselor Emily Camp located the eggs in the nest.
"Do you notice anything about these eggs?" Camp asked.
"They’re sort of small, aren’t they?" Subbarao, a veteran camper, asked.
Speculation about the reasons for small size of the eggs ensued with the group finally settling on the idea that the turtle may have been small and young.
After marking the stakes and stringing tape around them to protect the nest, the campers headed over to Bayfront Park where they set about learning what factors determine the gender of the hatchlings.
"Just remember hot mamas and cool dads," Counselor Christina Swosinski told the kids.
She had a tub into which the kids poured sand from the beach and Swosinski used masking tape and a marker to demonstrate northern nests in Virginia, central nests in the Carolinas and southern nests in Florida.
The kids poured sand from a bucket into Swosinski’s container, noting with disfavor some of the human debris present in the beach sand. There were little pieces of plastic, which the kids knew might be swallowed by turtles that could mistake a piece of plastic for a jellyfish.
The campers learned that it’s the temperature of the sand that determines the gender of the hatchlings.
So in Virginia, where the nights are cooler and the sand doesn’t get as hot, there are more males. In Florida, where the sand gets hot and temperatures don’t drop very much overnight, there are mostly females. In the Carolinas, the number of males and females is about equal. Hence, hot mamas, cool dads.
From the lesson about gender, the kids began a wild game of turtle-opia, which had them partnering up and running from station to station to answer questions about turtles. Then they had to perform a task like finding a bug in an ice cube.
From there, it was a crab walk, a bunny hop or a back-to-back sprint to the next station with the grand finale being a race into the bay.
"This is the best," Maia said. "I really like turtle camp."
Sessions are one-week long. There are still a few openings. The cost is $150 per week with a one-time $50 registration fee. Some kids come to all the sessions over the summer; some come for just a week, but all seem to have a great time. They also seem to become amazingly versed in the science of the seaside environment.