Shore News Today – Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dr. Roger Wood from the Wetlands Institute on Stone Harbor Boulevard got some creative answers from kindergarteners recently when he asked them what could hurt baby diamondback terrapins.

The answer he was seeking? Seagulls. The responses he got included tiger sharks, parrots, lions and skunks, proving that imagination never falls short with youngsters.

The children in Roberta Dean’s kindergarten class learned that terrapin hatchlings are nicknamed “seagull potato chips” because their shells have not hardened and they are often eaten by birds and wildlife.

The annual visit to the Stone Harbor Elementary School kicked off a year-long fundraising effort with the students who bake and sell turtle cookies at school events to raise funds for terrapin conservation programs. Proceeds are donated to the Institute in June when the class visits the Wetlands Institute and each student releases a rescued diamondback terrapin into the marsh.

When Wood introduced Mrs. Dean, not the teacher but the female terrapin the Institute uses for outreach programs, the children giggled as “Mrs. Dean” was released to roam around the classroom and meet the students.

“I really enjoy working with this age group because they are so eager to learn, and are truly fascinated with anything hands-on,” said Dan McLaughlin, coordinator of research at the Institute. “This outreach creates awareness at an early age for area residents and helps to grow local support for the conservation project.”

McLaughlin hopes to expand the Diamondback Terrapin Conservation Project with the assistance of a grant awarded by the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund that will allow for further research on the species, as well as extended outreach programs and educational activities.