The campers meet George, an eastern box turtle

When I started my internship with Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR), I hoped to have the opportunity to learn and understand more about the different species of turtles in the Rappahannock River. So I worked with Jake Rehm, another FOR intern and a sophomore at James Madison University, to plan a special turtle presentation and activity for the 6th-8th grade summer campers during the final week of FOR’s River Rats Summer Camp

During “Turtle Time,” campers learned facts about different species of turtles, including their diet, habitat, and the different roles each species plays in the local ecosystem, then got a chance to see and touch live turtles brought in by FOR volunteers. We invited three turtle hobbyists who brought four different species of turtles for the kids to see and touch up-close. The campers watched with delight as George the eastern box turtle devoured some worms, and tried in vain to get a shy musk turtle to emerge from its shell.

We also taught the campers how many local turtles are losing their habitats due to industrialization and ecosystem fragmentation. To drive the point home, Jake and I created a game about turtle habitat isolation. The campers were divided into two teams: a “turtle team” and a “builder team.” The two teams took turns, with the turtle team trying to chart a pathway across drawn out grid, and the builder team trying to block them by placing buildings in the turtles’ way. The campers that were on the turtle team soon grew frustrated as they learned that the odds of victory were stacked against them. After a few rounds, the campers understood how hard it is to find shelter as a turtle and realized how different species of turtles need to be protected for generations to come.

By Celeste Wilson

Celeste Wilson is an intern at Friends of the Rappahannock and a senior environmental science major at the University of Mary Washington