Combining education and science: Primary schools tracking Leatherback sea turtles across the Atlantic

A Leatherback Sea Turtle

Scientists with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are collaborating with local teachers, scientists, and community groups to tag and track eight rare Leatherback sea turtles on their global journeys. The turtles will be outfitted with a small satellite transmitter to monitor their travels when they come onto Dominican beaches to lay their eggs between May and July this year, as part of IFAW’s popular Floating Classroom program.

Working alongside DomSeTCO, Dominica Sea Turtle Conservation Organization Inc., IFAW biologists will attach inconspicuous satellite tags to eight Leatherback sea turtles when they come ashore to lay their eggs in the coming weeks. The tags are designed to continuously monitor their location for more than a year lending the clues needed to better protect these endangered animals. The satellite tags record the turtle’s location, latitude and longitude, each day and transmit this information directly to the participating schools via automatic emails sent directly from the turtle approximately once a week.  The students receive the data, map out the animals journey learning vital lessons in geography, mathematics, and oceanographic sciences.

Errol Harris, Coordinator of DomSeTCO, which leads the project in Dominica, emphasizes that “we’ve only explored a tiny fraction, less than 5% of our ocean, this project allows us to discover more by virtually swimming alongside these wonderful animals.” Harris goes on to talk about the value of these living, healthy sea turtle populations in that “They teach scientists how to better protect them and teach children about the unique treasures these animals are to our communities, a first class ecotourism destination”.

From the few studies that have been conducted we know that Leatherback sea turtles may migrate thousands of miles each year between breeding and feeding grounds. IFAW and DomSeTCO expect they may even travel as far as the United Kingdom, the Cape Verde Islands or the northwest coast of Africa.

“We’re all connected by one ocean”, says Jake Levenson, a Marine Biologist with IFAW “It’s inhabited by animals that migrate paying no attention to national boundaries. Thanks to the support from Disney’s Project Green, Students have an opportunity to contribute to a better understanding of marine life while learning about the responsibilities we all shoulder as citizens of our shared blue planet.”

Floating Classroom — a collaboration between IFAW, DomSeTCO, the Caribbean Whale Watch Operators’ Association (CARIBwhale), the Dominican Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, and the Dominican Youth Development Division of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports — teaches students about the importance of protecting marine life, ultimately inspiring the next generation of responsible ocean stewards and is expected to become a model used throughout the region. Students are introduced to Dominica’s whales, sea turtles and more, through classroom activities and face-to-face encounters on field trips aboard a Caribwhale member vessel. Already, Floating Classroom has reached thousands of Dominican students.

Floating Classroom students enrolled in grade five at nine schools will participate in this year’s program with plans to expand to other schools in the future.

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