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Tracking Sea Turtles:
Lessons in Saving an Endangered Species

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Put on your scuba gear and grab your camera -- we're going on an undersea adventure! Endangered sea turtles are in need of our attention, and the Internet offers some great activities for learning about sea turtles -- and even tracking their movements! Are you ready to make some turtle "trax"?

Endangered Species GIF Canadians Peter Bennett and Ursula Keuper-Bennett from Mississauga, Ontario, are the creators of a Web site, called Turtle Trax, totally devoted to the preservation of sea turtles.

Keuper-Bennett explains what prompted the couple to create the Web site:

"We thought of doing a sea turtle Web page very early in 1995. By then, we had spent eight summers underwater with the same group of Hawaiian green sea turtles. Many individual animals we had known for years. Most were also sick with a tumor disease called fibropapilloma.
"We had seen some of our most cherished sea turtles contract the disease, get worse, and then 'disappear' on us. We vowed to tell their story one day. When the Internet came, when we saw what a Web page was -- the potential -- Turtle Trax happened."

A sixth-grade teacher herself, Keuper-Bennett has had an educational plan for Turtle Trax from the beginning. "Our primary goal is to tell the story of this group of sea turtles. We call them the Honokowai honu. [Honu is the Hawaiian term for "sea turtle."] Honokowai is a small town on the island of Maui, Hawaii. To meet that goal, we have designed Turtle Trax to appeal to all age groups."

The Turtle Trax Web site is a true labor of love for Keuper-Bennett and her husband. "Sea turtles are wonderful. When you're underwater with them, there's no feeling like it in the world. They just enthrall. They are threatened globally because of human stupidity and callousness. I used to call it 'ignorance' and 'indifference' but I have upgraded that. [We want to] let children know that sea turtles need all the friends they can get."

You can help the Honokowai honu and all sea turtles by exposing your students to their situation with materials from Turtle Trax and other related Web sites. No matter which grade you teach, you will find a lesson to share with your students. Try one of these sea turtle activities today!

MAKING 'TRAX' WITH HATCHLINGS (YOUNG STUDENTS)

The threatened sea turtle may not seem a likely topic for young children to study, but Keuper-Bennett has made sure that even young children have a home at Turtle Trax. "We are very careful to write for the little ones too. Our favorite essay, and the one we think is the most important, is called Why Howzit Is Dying and was written purposely at a grade 4 reading level. Yet we've had adults respond to that essay and thank us for the message it relates. We wrote the essay in the winter of 1995, and Howzit has not been seen since."

Keuper-Bennett also recommends the Kidz Korner for young students. This page is a guide to all the resources on the Turtle Trax site that will appeal to youngsters. It includes stories of specific sea turtles, student essays, poetry, coloring pages, directions for making a turtle sundae, and cartoons.

On the more serious side, Turtle Trax provides excellent scientific information about the terrible disease that is impacting the lives of the Honokowai turtles. "Our Sickbay section is where students can find text and images about fibropapilloma disease," said Keuper-Bennett. "For some, it is the only way they can see what these tumors look like on a turtle." This portion of the site is appropriate for students in the intermediate grades through college level.

Your students can follow the footsteps of real scientists by examining the latest information in sea turtle research. "Also in Sickbay we provide scientific papers on this disease," explained Keuper-Bennett. "Turtle Trax also has on-line a current fibropapilloma bibliography. Sea turtle researcher George H. Balazs of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Honolulu gives most of the information to us. He ensures we get the latest fibropapilloma information. George has an excellent understanding of the speed with which the Internet can distribute information. So we know the scientists and researchers use Turtle Trax."

MAKING 'TRAX' WITH YOUNG ADULTS

Keuper-Bennett also recommends for high-school students the Sgt. Leatherback says section of the site, which presents a comprehensive list of threats to sea turtle health and safety. It presents detailed accounts of the status of many types of sea turtles and why they are endangered.

In the area of language arts, Keuper-Bennett directs teachers to Why Howzit Is Dying and the Turtle Trax Toon, a weekly comic strip. She also suggests that teachers introduce their students to the The Little Prince, the mission statement of the couple. Keuper-Bennett has used it with her sixth-grade students.

ALTERNATE 'TRAX'

Turtle Trax may one day offer satellite tracking of Hawaiian green sea turtles from their nesting site to their home foraging grounds, but such tracking is only in the planning stage. If tracking sea turtles migration is an activity your students might enjoy, the Sea Turtle Survival League's (STSL) Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Education Program offers a terrific opportunity to do that. See their Adopted Sea Turtles Being Satellite Tracked page. Teachers can make the STSL site by requesting a free teaching guide by completing the on-line Education Program Resource Guide Request Form. The curriculum guide has background information, activity suggestions, and worksheets -- everything a teacher might need to present a sea turtle unit.

STSL's Dan Evans explains why his organization offers the curriculum guide: "Through this program, the Sea Turtle Survival League hopes to increase appreciation for and awareness about sea turtles, coastal habitats, and the threats sea turtles face. STSL, which is based in Gainesville, Florida, hopes that with this increased appreciation will come a desire to act in ways to help protect and preserve not only sea turtles, but all wildlife and native habitats."

"I have seventh- and eighth-grade students, and the information really kept their attention and sparked a lot of concern for the turtles," said Tracey Truesdell, a teacher from Oak Hall School in Gainesville, Florida, who has used the Migration-Tracking Education Program provided by STSL. "Many [students] returned to the Web site on their own time."

Another educator, Laura Trombley, from St. Petersburg, Florida, stated, "I have enjoyed the Web site and guide. My students have enjoyed learning about and loving sea turtles."

"Most teachers have incorporated the activities and lesson plans from the guide in their classes," Evans reported. "Many use the guide as a resource for themselves and their students. The Web site is utilized for its Tracking Maps. Teachers download the maps and have their students plot the location points of the turtles.

"Many [other] teachers have students post questions and comments to the related bulletin board, where their questions will be answered by sea turtle conservationists or sea turtle researchers," added Evans. "To increase interest in the program, many teachers will have the students raise money to adopt a turtle. The students then take a special interest in following the movements of their adopted turtle on our Web site."

SEATURTLE.ORG

Seaturtle.org is one other resource teachers will find useful, according to Keuper-Bennett. This site provides access to the on-line Marine Turtle Newsletter with up-to-date information regarding the status of sea turtles. Though it is written with scientists and researchers in mind, mature students and interested adults will find it informative. The site also offers a terrific selection of sea turtle links for teachers and students to explore.

IN THE SWIM OF THINGS!

In addition, teachers might incorporate sea turtles into classroom lessons with some of these activity ideas.

Science/language arts -- write reports. Students from Enchanted Lakes Elementary School in Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii, created The Hawaiian Sea Turtle with the help of their teacher, Lena Kanemori, as a part of their site Endangered Species of Hawaii. Your students may use their Web pages as guides for writing simple reports on other endangered species. You might consider creating a site about endangered animals that live in your area.

Science -- study sea turtles. Who could know more about sea turtles than the scientists of Sea World? The Sea World Web site is the perfect place to begin a study of Sea Turtles. When you have probed scientific facts about the habits, diet, and physiology of sea turtles, visit the portions of the site at the bottom of the home page that are designed to be more fun. Elementary students will love the activities A Turtle Tale, which includes a maze, and Follow That Turtle, a matching activity. Loggerhead Turtle Travels is the place for older students, who will enjoy the story of "Wrong-Way Corrigan," a sea turtle that had strayed off course and was rescued, cared for, and released by members of the Sea World staff.

Art -- create a sea turtle postage stamp. Have your students exercise their creative talents by pretending to be members of a selection committee for postage stamps. Give your students time to view the sea turtle stamps that are on display at Sea Turtle Postage Stamps of the World. Then have the students make their own sea turtle stamps. They could use Internet resources to find pictures of actual sea turtle species to use as models for their designs. When they have finished, allow them to vote for the best stamps to be "published."

Science -- role-play a sea turtle. Nothing brings home the message of the sea turtle's fight for survival better than this EuroTurtle: A Sea Turtle Adventure Game from the EuroTurtle Home Page. Students toss two coins to determine the course of a female sea turtle that is heading for the nesting grounds. Along the way, students learn about the many dangers that threaten the sea turtle and her young. Because the game changes with every toss of the coins, give your students plenty of time to play. In that way, they will see how often the sea turtles do not get to the nesting grounds safely.

Language arts -- debate. The Cayman Turtle Farm offers a unique opportunity for older students to consider whether humans should interfere with the natural course of the lives of animals, even in an attempt to save them. Give your students time to examine the Web site. Ask them to share their opinions of the turtle farm. Is it beneficial? Does it have no impact? Or is its influence negative? Should people be permitted to harvest an endangered animal at all? Younger students will enjoy an on-line tour of the facility, including a view of the live picture from the WebCam, which focuses on the turtle pools.

Science -- become a conservationist/activist. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project will serve as a call to action for high-school students. It identifies ways for people to get involved in the struggle to save sea turtles. Many of the activities are appropriate for students and could even be done in the classroom. The sea turtle is only one of many causes your students may elect to support. Take this opportunity to show them how to be effective, reasonable activists!

STUDENTS AS SEA TURTLE STEWARDS

In the eyes of the founders of Turtle Trax, a few lines from a children's story sum up their intentions for the site: "It's chapter 21 of The Little Prince, which we use as our mission statement," said Ursula Keuper-Bennett. "It has a simple vocabulary with a powerful high-end message. The Little Prince tames the Fox. And there's the whole message about what it means to 'tame' something and yes, someone. And how if you tame something you become 'responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.'

"This is true for sea turtles, human beings -- all living things. Buy a plant and you've tamed it. You are responsible for it. 'Taming' is simply a metaphor for extending friendship and trust that's an important message to deliver to humans on this planet. The whole concept is one of 'stewardship.'"

Keuper-Bennett explains why the Turtle Trax Web site spans a range of topics and emotions, "Notice how we go from scientific to silly to philosophical? If you ever got to meet these sea turtles, you'd know why. They just do that to you!"

MORE SEA TURTLE SITES ON THE INTERNET

Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
Here students can see pictures of and read about patients that have been rescued and treated at this hospital for sea turtles. They will see evidence of the human impacts that cause sea turtle injury.

Lives of the Ancient Mariner
This page contains a description of the nesting habits of sea turtles in Florida.

The Office of Protected Resources: Sea Turtles
All the details about types of sea turtles and why they are endangered can be found at this Web site. Students can also learn about what is being done to save the turtles from extinction.

NOAA Office of Protected Species
Read the story of the green sea turtle and how and why it became endangered. The site includes information on the animal's nesting practices, special resources for younger students, a comprehensive list of threats to sea turtle health and safety, detailed accounts of the status of many types of sea turtles, and much more.

Oceana
This envirommental organization is doing work to protect the loggerhead sea turtle and other species.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

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