Sitting on the beach or waiting in line with your handheld computer?
A new online game designed for kids is fun for anyone interested in sea turtle conservation and would be a great addition to a teacher’s lesson plans with its built-in field guide and quizzes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched "Sea Turtles and the Quest to Nest," its second online educational game in the WaterLife series.
It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into the game, which tries very hard not to preach and avoids making villains out of any of the characters you can play (even lawmakers).
As a sea turtle, you use arrow keys to try to avoid sharks and boats in the water and dogs and beach furniture on land, while eating whelks and horseshoe crabs and taking breaths of air to keep up your strength. If you run into a beam of light, the screen turns white and disorients you. The object is to get to the beach and dig your nest. But if you get cocky and try to see what happens when you run into a shark on purpose, you have to start all over.
As a beachgoer, you take beach photos on a scavenger hunt science project and paste them in a scrapbook for a grade based on your ability to identify marine plants and animals and obstacles to turtles, and your photo quality.
As a whelk, the sea turtle’s favorite meal, you play on a Suduko grid to line up animals in the food chain. There are degrees of difficulty, and the hard one’s as tough as a turtle shell.
As a commercial fisherman, you earn money catching fish, then shop for turtle friendly gear like circle hooks and nets with Turtle Excluder Devices and get points for catching fish without harming turtles by tending your nets. You have to watch your gas level, or you’re stranded and the game’s over. And you can make your lines really long, something real commercial fishermen can’t do anymore unless they have a longline endorsement on their reef fish permit.
As a turtle volunteer or environmentalist, you try to pick up as much trash, beach toys and beach furniture as possible and tell thoughtless people using flashlights to turn them off before mother sea turtles and hatchlings run into the light beams. If you run into a turtle yourself while doing these things, shame on you.
As a legislator, you piece together a puzzle balancing the interests of all the players, then choose laws to protect turtles, such as planting seagrasses and outlawing beach armoring, such as seawalls.“You win when all characters are happy or OK,” according to the rules, a worthwhile but difficult goal. For example, when the sea turtle nests, both the sea turtle and the environmentalist are happy, and when the fisherman catches fish and no sea turtles, all three are happy.
Blatantly missing in the game is an oil well, which seems odd, since NOAA is one of the key agencies in charge of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"The mini-games in 'Quest to Nest' help students understand the most important issues facing loggerhead sea turtles on land and in the ocean and give them practice making difficult decisions involving multiple stakeholders," said John Oliver, deputy assistant administrator of NOAA's Fisheries Service. "Helping our future leaders grasp the importance of conserving our marine resources is crucial to developing an informed citizenry prepared to take action to protect our nation's living marine resources."
Also, it’s fun.
Try it at http://games.noaa.gov.