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Educating people about turtles and wildlife builds empathy and caring

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Educating people about turtles and wildlife builds empathy and caring
21Nov 2019

Geddes Hislop, Curator of Terrestrial Exhibits and Education Programmes, with guests in the Caribbean Aviary.

Thousands of students, from preschool, right through to college-age students, visit Cayman Turtle Centre every year as part of the Centre's Education Programme. "Seeing and experiencing the things that students learn about in the classroom makes education come alive," said the Centre's dedicated Education Programmes Officer Shona McGill.

The Centre works closely with schools to include turtles and wildlife topics in their curriculum. Geddes Hislop, Curator of Terrestrial Exhibits and Education Programmes, and Shona McGill are both experienced and skilful educators with the gift of turning lessons at the Centre into unforgettable, life-changing experiences. Taking this approach will help the children value Cayman's natural heritage when they get older and teach their children to do the same. Different themes and concepts are explored during the education sessions at the Centre; everything from how fins on fishes or wings on birds adapt them to their environment, to how protecting the marine environment helps to keep the whole planet healthy.

Education Officer Shona McGill with Cayman Parrot.

Education Officer Shona McGill with Cayman Parrot.

"Teaching and learning are paramount because people protect the things that we care for, and we care for the things we know about and encounter for ourselves," said Ms. McGill.

Apart from school students, there are a quarter of a million visitors to the Centre every year. They are thirsty to know and experience new things. Aquarists Wendy Dandie and Adam Jackson formulate and give regular "Shark Talks," while they feed the nurse sharks at the Predator Lagoon, where they explain that far from being the villains of the sea, sharks are a vital part of the ecosystem because they keep diseased and unhealthy fish to a minimum. While in the Caribbean Free Flight Aviary, the Centre's Bird Keepers William Chisholm and Arlen Bodden can be found talking about the beautiful birds there. Mr. Chisholm and Mr. Bodden explore the importance of the Centre's captive breeding programme with the Centre's visitors. One such programme is the breeding and release of local threatened birds such as White Crown pigeons and Cayman parrots back into the wild, while visitors are charmed by the birds feeding from their hands.

The Centre's education team is always reaching out to find new ways of engaging kids. Recently, as part of the traditional Pirates Week turtle release, there was an essay competition for high school-age children, coupled with a poster competition for younger children (both of them to be entitled, "The Green Sea Turtle, Our National Treasure). The two winners from each of the categories named and escorted their own turtle down to the water's edge, where it started a new life beneath the waves, at Governor's Beach. The competitions were a part of the Annual Pirates Week turtle release event, which saw the release into the wild of twenty head-started (one to two year old) Green sea turtles.

"We received 26 entries for the poster and essay competition, showing how excited and engaged students and schools are in supporting conservation in the Cayman Islands," Ms. McGill said.

The Centre is also launching its second year of turtle-naming competition releases, just for schools. The students are asked to come up with a fascinating and thoughtful name for a turtle, and the competition winners get to release "their" turtle, with their whole class.