Sunday, 26 August 2012

Teen volunteers aid 20-year study on terrapins - via Herp Digest for video produced by writer on his smartphone. The video stars some of the volunteers and their projects.

Waretown, New Jersey, 7/31/12— England native Sarah Walker donned her waders for a boat trip Friday on the Barnegat Bay. She said she doesn’t mind missing the Olympics in her home country because she’s too busy learning about turtles on the Jersey Shore.

“I am going to study biology at a university in the fall so I thought this would give me a good look at how scientists work. It has been great fun,’’ she said.

Walker, 17, is among eight members of the EarthWatch Institute’s Teen Team program that arrived in the United States a week ago. The team has been staying at the Lighthouse Environmental Resource Center in Ocean Township and has been assisting a 20-year terrapin study by Drexel University.

The team’s coordinator, Kim Coyne said EarthWatch draws volunteers on a nine-day rotation from around the world. She said that this summer volunteers came from Japan, Canada and England.

“Their duties include checking the turtle traps, helping out on the boat and assisting in the work stations at the center,’’ Coyne said. “The teen program involves 15 to 18 years old. A lot of them are considering science as a career. For some, the appeal is the destination. For others, it is the type of field work they will be involved with.’’

Walker said she became familiar with EarthWatch when her father was part of an EarthWatch adult expedition to Mongolia.

Fellow EarthWatch volunteer Brett Connolly, 16, of West Newbury, Mass. said: “I’ve always been interested in animals especially reptiles and I want to go into biology.’’

Drexel University Professor Hal Avery leads the terrapin project, which began in 2006 and involves undergraduate and graduate students conducting research within the sedge islands of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge off Barnegat Bay.

The project’s focus is to study terrapin mortality within the Barnegat Bay, including their population, the predators they face and their mating habits.

Drexel University graduate student Abigail Dominy has been with the project for three years.

“We made a cool discovery this summer about nesting turtles. We found one female who had swam from Carvel Island to Conklin Island. They are 5 kilometers apart. We didn’t expect to see the same females nesting at both islands,’’ she said.

Dominy said this revealed the turtles were “getting around quite a bit.’’ Dominy also is looking at terrapin vision.

“Terrapins can see more colors in the ultraviolet spectrum than humans can. Certain females might breed with males of a specific color,’’ she said.

Dominy said members of the research team often find injured terrapins in the water or on the road and bring them back to the center to nurse them back to health.

Anika Vittands, another of Avery’s students, said: “We set up cameras in June on several sedge islands, which revealed that muskrats, red fox and crows were disturbing nesting areas.’’

Avery said this was a surprise to the researchers. “We were not aware that muskrats were a predator to them.”

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