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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA
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Registered: December 2020
City/Town/Province: VERONA
Posts: 1
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My interest and love of animals and the environment began when I was a young girl. As a Girl Scout, I was introduced to nature through fishing, horseback riding, and of course, camping. The beauty of the environment captivated me and I knew that I wanted to be more involved. I decided to join the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium's Kids Science Program at the age of eleven, which allowed me to practice my passion hands-on through independent research projects and conservation efforts. I studied animal behavior with an enrichment focus, the biological development of organisms, and learned important career building and networking skills. After graduating from the program, I continued my education through ZooU, a platform that I am still involved with today. ZooU has taught me the expertise of being an animal activist, with attention to a wide array of species. However, I was curious about an additional way to conduct meaningful change for one of my favorite animals, sea turtles. I developed a plan to utilize what I've learned and apply it outside of the zoo.

The inspiration behind my conservation project is a Green sea turtle named Harbor at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. Harbor was rescued after being struck by a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and placed in the "Second Chance Program" for sea turtles. This conservation effort takes in injured or distraught sea turtles with plans to release them once they improve. Unfortunately, Harbor is not able to be released because he was kept in captivity for too long. The severity of his injuries caused him to be accustomed to the aquarium and he most likely would not survive in the wild. While most of our rescued sea turtles were caught in plastic or ended up away from the ocean and can safely return within a few weeks, Harbor has made the aquarium his new home. I spent a lot of time at the zoo studying Harbor, and grew to love his unique personality and perseverance to heal. You could say he swam right into my heart! Because of my attachment to Harbor, I wanted to do more on his behalf. Only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood. It was my goal to increase this number and change the lives of more like Harbor.

Sea turtles are delicate creatures that can not advocate for themselves. I was determined to take an initiative and care for sea turtle hatching sites. Sea turtle hatching sites are the locations in which sea turtles lay their eggs. Conservationists mark these sites with flags in the shape of a square to alert tourists to their presence. Once a sea turtle hatches, it must take a long journey to the ocean. This is the part of a sea turtle's life where it is most threatened. Baby sea turtles, also known as "hatchlings", often get entrapped in trash, fall into large holes dug by children, get hit by boats and jet skis', are eaten by dogs that are off-leash, and worst of all, follow deceiving lights that lead them away from safety.

I took a trip to Fort Lauderdale that ran from July 29th through the first of August. Fort Lauderdale has one of the largest populations of sea turtle hatching sites and I wanted to conduct an ocean clean up and educate others on what they could do for the dying sea turtle population. I started my project with an ocean clean up because plastic debris and other garbage particles is the number one cause of death in sea turtles, and in this specific area, Loggerhead sea turtles. My team (my family members and I) quickly spotted the nesting sites and got to work right away. We carefully filled garbage bags with visible trash and made our way up and down the shoreline as far as we could see. Service is contagious when it comes to making our world a better place and I had the opportunity to experience this first hand. Complete strangers of all ages felt encouraged to participate in the activity and my team of four members grew rapidly. After just five continuous hours, I had approximately twenty five people helping to clean up the beaches for the sea turtles. It is crucial to work as a community if we want to make a difference and this felt like it was the first step to greatness. These helpers were clueless when it came to sea turtles. The group mainly consisted of tourists who did not even know that the marked areas were sea turtle nests. I answered plenty of their questions and I gave my best effort to educate them on sea turtle conservation. I explained how simple actions can negatively impact these creatures such as walking around the beach at night with flashlights. Sea turtles follow the moon to reach their ocean destination and bright lights often lead them in a different direction. I also stressed the importance of reusing items and recycling. I gave names of organizations so they could become more involved. Such as, The Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (STOP), a non-profit sea turtle conservation organization made up of local volunteers who conduct nighttime nest surveys and monitoring to rescue and release disoriented sea turtle hatchlings in Broward County, Florida or The Sea Turtle Conservancy. Over the four days, I conducted many ocean clean ups, however, the most important part of my project was the education aspect. I continued to advocate by politely stepping in when I saw a disruption to the nesting sites. I corrected plenty of people on the harm that they were unintentionally causing and raised awareness about the sea turtle population. Still, there were some set-backs along the way. I was in Fort Lauderdale the exact same time that Hurricane Isaias decided to visit. The harsh winds were making the trash hard to grasp and I had to cautiously re-flag the nesting sites multiple times. The waves were massive and I personally was terrified for the hatchlings knowing that they could hatch at any given moment but I did not let this get the best of me. With Harbor for my motivation, I knew that I was going to make a great impact regardless of the hurricane and I succeeded.

My absolute favorite part of my conservation project was having the opportunity to watch the newly hatched Loggerhead sea turtles make it to the ocean without the interference of garbage, lights, deep holes, and dogs on my last day there. The project enriched my life by opening my eyes to the fact that I can make an impact on the world, even through small tasks of litter control. It inspired me to continue having conversations with others, placing awareness signs, and to chase my ambitions. My work with sea turtles is just getting started, and I'm excited to continue advocating for the conservation of this animal in the future.
Date: December 30, 2020 Views: 3829 File size: 8.6kb, 169.9kb : 828 x 1792
Hours Volunteered: 240
Volunteers: 4-25
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 16 & 8 and up
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