Back to Poplar Island: Young students continue National Aquarium's terrapin restoration program

Baltimore Sun Media Group

“It is a really exciting day for Hidey Hermit Crab and Pluto.”

National Aquarium education specialist Marcie Orenstein made the announcement as she and 14 first-graders from the Green School of Baltimore walked toward a dock on Tilghman Island on Monday.

The students and their teacher, Lindsay Callahan, put on life vests to take a 20-minute boat ride to Poplar Island.

The mission was to release terrapins they have been caring for in their classroom since the fall, but also to teach them knowledge of and respect for the Chesapeake Bay.

The Green School, which focuses on education about the natural environment, was one of 44 schools that partnered this year with the National Aquarium’s Head Start Program called Terrapins in the Classroom.

This year Terrapins in the Classroom collected hatchling terrapins from Poplar Island and provided them to schools for students to observe and study.

“I mostly saw Hidey Hermit Crab exploring places he didn’t know and he really liked to eat,” said Moses Blom, 6.

Throughout the year, students collect growth data, observe behaviors, learn animal care techniques and research the natural history of the species.

Each public and private school releases turtles in a project coordinated with the Maryland Environmental Service, which is based in Millersville and oversees the trips to Poplar Island. Since 2008, the program has raised more than 400 terrapins.

Orenstein said one of the program’s goals is “to inspire behaviors to help protect the Chesapeake Bay.”

Poplar Island is itself an environmental lesson. The island is a restoration project that uses dredge material collected from the approach channels to Baltimore’s harbor. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds the bulk of the project, with help from the Maryland Port Administration.

During their trip, first-graders took the opportunity to learn about the history and restoration of Poplar Island from Maryland Environmental Services’ Kristina Motley — and play educational games.

As they played, students walked over to the terrapins resting in two large orange buckets to start their goodbyes.

“Hey buddy, I’m happy to see you,” said Linden Seavers-Reale, 7.

“You’re like family,” 7-year-old Leo Niessen said.

Finally, the students lined up in a grassy wetland to wave goodbye as Hidey Hermit Crab and Pluto made their way back into the bay.

Moses described feeling “happy, sad, excited and upset-ish” about the release.

“I’m sad because they are leaving our school and they were a very important part of it,” Moses said, “and I’m happy because they are in a new habitat and they will be able to explore new places.”

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