Fourth Graders Get Rare Chance to Rescue Sea Turtles at Long Pasture
December 15, 2022
Cape Cod is known for the sea turtles that cold-stun on the bayside each fall, but it’s actually pretty unusual to find a stranded turtle on the beach.
Recently, students at the Dennis-Yarmouth region’s Wixon Elementary School in Dennis were the exception! As part of a multi-lesson sea turtle conservation curriculum led by Mass Audubon Cape Cod educators, groups of Wixon fourth graders visited Corporation Beach in Dennis over two cold and windy December days to learn about coastal ecology and the correct procedure for rescuing a cold-stunned sea turtle.
The Right Conditions
“The wind was coming from the north,” educator David Shapiro says, “and conditions were pretty good for turtles to strand on that beach.” But the odds of actually finding a real turtle? Still pretty low.
Usually, school groups use artificial turtles on their beach walks to practice rescue steps, such as moving a cold-stunned turtle to the upper beach, covering it in dry seaweed, and calling the sanctuary. But on the second day of the program, instead of rescuing model turtles, the Wixon students found the real thing—three cold-stunned but live Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, the world’s most endangered sea turtles!
“The turtles were still pretty active,” David says, “and when we picked them up to move out of the surf zone, they started flapping their flippers, which the kids were excited to see.”
The students were thrilled, but they had also been prepared for the experience. David says the fourth-grade classes had completed two previous in-school lessons about turtle biology, adaptations, and why sea turtles become cold-stunned on Cape Cod.
The students’ unexpected turtle encounter on the beach ignited a barrage of questions: which species of turtle had stranded and how old were they? What would happen to the turtles next? David says it’s bound to be an experience the Wixon students will recall for a long time.
“It’s pretty special to have the chance to save the life of a critically endangered animal,” he says. “But it’s also important the students learned that in conservation, even an individual can make a difference.”
Mass Audubon Cape Cod is grateful for a Program Grant from the Ernest Michael Helides and Evelyn Ponticos Helides Education Fund of The Cape Cod Foundation that allowed us to bring the sea turtle curriculum to Wixon Elementary this fall.
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