Students push lawmakers to protect turtles
The slow and steady efforts of students at a New Jersey environmental science school to protect turtles are about to pay off.
They've gotten state legislators to introduce a bill making it illegal to catch or take diamondback terrapins from the wild. It would require the state to investigate ways to protect their population.
Students at Manahawkin's Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science have been studying and trying to protect terrapins since 2002. They want to help educate the public about them and research the number of turtles.
Cars kill many turtles each year and their habitat in coastal marshes is shrinking.
Michael Signorelli says he and other students in the school's Project Terrapin are excited at the prospect of legal protection for the animals, which they've studied and cared for over the years. The bill would remove terrapins from the state's game list and would end a confusing situation that once had them listed as a species of special concern. At the same time, the turtles also are on a list of animals approved for hunting.
John Wnek, the school's supervisor, said the population of terrapins on Sedge Island near the Barnegat Inlet has been declining. It's down from about 100 in 2002 to the low 70s now. And 21 percent of the animals that student researchers catch show signs of injuries from boats.
Wnek said the turtles were widely hunted for food in the 1880s. The turtles are more in demand now as pets, he said.
The students contacted Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who sponsored the bill with Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak.
"It's a good lesson in civics," Van Drew said. "They had an idea and reached out and now they're actually making something good happen."
The bill is awaiting hearings in two legislative committees.
Critical thinking challenge: What do the slow and steady efforts of students have in common with turtles?