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Ahfachkee students do their part to save sea turtles

Ahfachkee School 10th-grader Janessa Jones shows fourth-grader Riley Hill a stuffed Hawksbill sea turtle shell used for exhibition during a trip to the Turtle Hospital on April 10 in the Florida Keys. After raising nearly $500 through a bake sale, Ahfachkee students presented their donation to the rehabilitation hospital in person during spring break. (Courtesy photo)

A group of Ahfachkee students fulfilled their promise to the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys on April 10 when they presented the facility with a check for $487.01. The students raised the money through a Valentine’s Day bake sale.

Ten students, including members of the Student Council, along with a few staff and family members a visited the hospital during a spring break field trip. After a brief stop for breakfast at Florida International University in Miami, their bus headed south on the Overseas Highway to Marathon, about halfway down the chain of islands that make up the Keys.

The non-profit Turtle Hospital was established in 1986 with four goals: to rehabilitate injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat; educate the public through outreach programs including visits to local schools; conduct and assist with research aiding sea turtles in conjunction with universities; and work toward environmental legislation to make water safe and clean for sea turtles.

“They made us aware of the situation,” said Mya Cypress, 16. “Everyone knows not to pollute, but they went more in depth. This affects the turtles for life and the entire sea turtle population. Once they are injured they can’t reproduce so there will be fewer of them.”

The hospital has 36 turtles they are caring for now and the students saw them all.

“They only have the ones they could find,” said Janessa Jones, 15. “But there are a lot more out there that get hurt and die.”

“We saw a turtle that had ‘bubble butt,’ his shell cracked by a propeller,” said Aaliyah Billie, 11. “He will stay there for the rest of his life; it’s sad.”

The Turtle Hospital has a vibrant educational program and hosts student groups regularly, but the period between Easter and the end of the school year is the busiest, said education specialist Liz Miska. The hospital receives donations from schools throughout the U.S. about two or three times per month.

“The Ahfachkee students were very well behaved and were into what we had to offer,” Miska said. “Their donation was more than the average.”

The hospital’s most common rehabilitation work on sea turtles is removing tumors likely caused by pollution, gasses, oil and fertilizers. Next common is ingestion of plastics that litter the ocean. The hospital boasts a 90 percent success rate healing the animals and an 85 to 90 percent rate of successful release back into the ocean.

“Plastic bags are confused for food by sea turtles, which can hurt them pretty badly,” Miska said. “We want to make the students aware that everything you do on a daily basis can make a difference.”

Miska said making small changes in daily habits such as not using plastic bags, reducing waste by recycling and using natural cleaners like vinegar instead of chemicals can make a bit difference.

“Little things here and there can really make a difference,” she said. “They can have a ripple effect and make a big impact on the environment as a whole.”

The trip to the Turtle Hospital made an impact on the students.

“It’s nice that there is a place that tends to sea turtles,” Janessa said. “Sea turtles are probably the last animal you think about, but it’s cool that there are people willing to step up and help them.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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