Bridges Prep students volunteer with sea turtle project

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A dozen Bridges Preparatory School students helped thousands of baby sea turtles make their way from sandy nests to the welcoming waves at Hunting Island during a summer-long volunteer learning project.

COVER - BRIDGES - A hatchling heads to the oceanThis year, volunteers with the Hunting Island Sea Turtle Conservation Project found 81 Loggerhead Sea Turtle nests and one extremely rare Leatherback Sea Turtle nest at Hunting Island, according to Peggy Willenberg, a naturalist and volunteer with the project.

“The Bridges Prep students, parents and teachers were fully-trained members of the sea turtle project,” Willenberg said “and like the other volunteers, the students reported for duty before sunrise.”

“They patrolled the beach, found turtle crawls and nests, protected nests, moved nests if necessary, and last but not least, picked up all sorts of trash, making the beach more beautiful for visitors and safer for sea life,” she said.

Helping save the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle nests and hatchlings seemed a natural fit for the state charter school, considering its efforts to propel project-based learning while connecting to the community. “The easy access to the Atlantic beaches at Hunting Island State Park also made the project work,” said Amy Painton, a staff member at Bridges Prep.

“So many of our families enjoy Hunting Island throughout the summer,” she said. “We thought it would be a great experience for some of our students to volunteer with the turtle project so they could learn hands-on about the struggle for life by the sea turtles.”

Bridges Prep partnered with the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club on the summer sea turtle project. Participating students, families and teachers included:

“What a wonderful way to connect our Bridges students with their local environment, and give them a lifetime memory,” said Dr. Bob Bohnstengel, head of school at Bridges. “It’s an added benefit that their work probably helped some of these hatchlings survive.”

“The average clutch or nest contains 130 eggs,” Willenberg said. “Considering losses, that still means approximately 8,200 hatchling turtles made their way to the sea. Due to early mortality and the 25-year lifespan required to reach reproductive maturity, approximately eight sea turtles will survive to reproduce from those hatchlings.”

“The Bridges students and parents were delightful,” she continued. “The parents and children were highly interested and excited, and listened carefully to instructions. They were a pleasure to have with us, and I hope they will join us again next season.”