Conservation Classroom: MCLA Fosters Endangered Turtles

February 6, 2019

Biology students aren’t the only ones that hang out in the labs at the Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation: they share space with some very special turtles.

MCLA participates in a conservation program that nurtures the young hatchlings until they are ready to be returned to the wild, as part of a state-wide effort to increase the number of Red-Bellied Cooter turtles, an endangered species native to Plymouth County, Mass.

According to Dr. Justin Golub, associate professor of biology, for some of these students, it’s a source of pride to have the turtles in their classroom.

“Participating in the Red-Bellied Cooter Head Start program is an excellent opportunity for MCLA and our students,” Golub said. “Our students get hands-on experience with animals, which is great for those interested in careers working with animals. In addition to having the opportunity to teach them about conservation, we teach other community members – including third- and sixth-grade students – who visit and learn about ecology and conservation efforts that directly impact our state.”

MCLA got involved after project partners at the Berkshire Museum were uncertain if they could care for some turtles this year due to scheduled renovations at the cultural venue. “So we stepped up,” Golub explained. “We saw the opportunity for our students to gain hands-on experience with animals, as well as the opportunity for students to participate in a conservation project.” 

Collected in late August, the turtles are distributed in September to program partners across the Commonwealth.  By spring, they will grow to be several times larger than those that spend the winter in their natural habitats. They then will be returned to their native ponds in June as part of the effort to help maintain this vital ecosystem. 

Listed on state and federal levels as an endangered species since 1980, the turtles only can be found in Plymouth County. Since 1984, more than 4,000 Red-Bellied Cooters have been head-started, and many are reproducing in the wild.

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