Bald Head Island Conservancy

Bald Head Island Conservancy and NC Arboretum Collaboration Urges Youth Citizen Scientists to Wonder

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In June, Bald Head Island Conservancy collaborated on an educational video with North Carolina Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORE program, Protecting Sea Turtles: Science and Wonder. It was released during ecoEXPLORE’s Herpetology Season, which sent children in search of herptiles throughout North Carolina, from Bald Head Island to their own backyard. EXPLORERS were prompted to think deeper about the wonders of nature, from the smallest of skinks to the largest of Leatherbacks.

The Arboretum’s Experiences Promoting Learning Outdoors for Research and Education (ecoEXPLORE) is an incentive-based centered citizen science program designed for children grades K-8. ecoEXPLORE combines scientific exploration with kid-friendly technology to “foster a fun learning environment for children.” As a program, it also encourages children to explore the outdoors while simultaneously making their own strides in citizen science at a young age.

Citizen science entails volunteers of all ages collecting and submitting scientific information to scientists in need of data collection assistance, both for research and analysis. ecoEXPLORE’s aspiring citizen scientists aid researchers in understanding changes in the environment and the impact of those changes on plants, animals, and other natural resources.

One incentive that ecoEXPLORERS can earn is badges. Throughout May and June, EXPLORERS were able to “See, Snap, and Share” their way towards earning their Herpetology Season Badge, which inspired them to observe herptiles (reptiles and amphibians). For seasoned EXPLORE scientists, there was the Field Focus Badge, which allowed them to dig deeper and research the taxonomy and identification of salamanders. In the midst of Herpetology Season celebrations, the Arboretum reached out to invite the Bald Head Island Conservancy to tag along.

Protecting Sea Turtles: Science and Wonder follows the Conservancy’s Sea Turtle Biologist, Paul Hillbrand, as he takes to the beaches to patrol for sea turtles as nesting season begins in North Carolina. On Bald Head Island, the window for sea turtle nesting is between May and November, with the spring and early-summer bringing nesting mothers ashore and the late-summer and early-fall welcoming an emergence of hatchlings to the world. Hillbrand’s Sea Turtle Protection Team is composed of a team of interns, part-timers, volunteer nest monitors, and guests and homeowners who assist throughout the year in Adopt-a-Programs and educating the public on sea turtle protection. A nocturnal Hillbrand and sea turtle interns take to the beaches at 9 PM each night to patrol from East Beach to West Beach and back until dawn breaks around 6 AM, before returning to the Barrier Island Study Center to analyze data on tagged turtles, assign nests to Adopt-a families, and create new Predator Exclusion Cages (PECs) for the next night to come.

Protecting Sea Turtles: Science and Wonder dives into Hillbrand’s passion for protecting the sea turtles that nest and hatch on Bald Head Island and an elementary school project on beluga whales that sent his mind wandering among marine life and has pushed it deeper into questions about sea turtle biology and their role as “ecosystem engineers” since.

As the hatchlings take their first stretches into the sea, Hillbrand prompts ecoEXPLORERS to “get out into wilderness and ask questions,” to wonder why the sea turtles are nesting on the beach, to wonder why Painted Buntings are calling out from the trees, and who they are calling to. Hillbrand hopes that EXPLORERS continue to ask questions and wonder why things happen because “that’s how we push science forward.”


Watch Protecting Sea Turtles: Science and Wonder and spark your own wonders about the world here.

Learn more about the Conservancy’s Sea Turtle Protection Program here.

Begin your own eco-EXPLORATION here.


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