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Safety in numbers

March 1, 2012

When Jean Jang tells people she works with sea turtles, they often share with her a special moment they had when they saw their first turtle or hatchling.

“It’s usually deeply ingrained as a positive moment in their life,” says Jang, a Master of Science in Environment and Management student and Bachelor of Science graduate.

“I hope by conserving sea turtles everyone will have a chance to experience that moment and develop an appreciation and respect for oceans, aquatic systems and their wildlife inhabitants.”

Jang received a $500 grant from Royal Roads’ Sustainable Action for the Environment (SAFE) Fund to produce a sea turtle activity book for Grade 2 and 3 students. The conservation biology education tool builds on other research Jang has done on sea turtles.

While doing her undergraduate degree at Royal Roads, Jang travelled to Ostional, Costa Rica, to study a phenomenon called “arribada,” a mass-nesting behaviour common to olive ridley sea turtles. Hundreds of ridleys deposit eggs in the sand over a period of three to 10 days, a technique recognized as a “predator prey saturation tactic.” This technique is believed to increase the survivorship of hatchlings reaching adulthood. Jang’s project was funded by Royal Roads’ President’s Global Field Studies Externship Award. Jang is now doing her thesis on sea turtles in Costa Rica.

“The location is a really interesting spot for sea turtle nesting,” Jang says of Ostional, the only place in the world that has a legal commercial harvest of sea turtle eggs. The turtles come in hundreds of thousands over a period of three to 10 days while people, some with homes on the beach, watch. “It’s a very intense event when the turtles come. I found the human and nature interface very interesting.”

Jang is hoping to share what she’s learned about sea turtles with elementary students through her activity book and help young people get excited about science.

“I hope to present some of the intricacies of conservation biology to younger people in a format that’s really interesting for them,” she says, adding that the activity book will feature photos and images and will be available for teachers and students online for downloading.

“Jean Jang is truly a student who has been able to live her learning,” says Prof. Charles Krusekopf, head of the Master of Environment and Management program.

While funding for the project has come from Royal Roads, Jang is working on the activity book with Partnerships for Reform through Investigative Science and Mathematics (PRISM), a joint initiative between the Hawaii Island Department of Education and the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where Jang is also studying. She plans to have the book ready by the summer. 

“It’s a great opportunity for startup projects,” Jang says of the SAFE Fund, which supports projects led by Royal Roads students, staff or alumni aimed at reducing environmental impacts. “Royal Roads has been very, very encouraging as far as if you have a vision or a dream that you want to accomplish, they’re willing to hear you out and help you get a first foot forward.”

The SAFE Fund was started in 2007 by Krusekopf, who, along with his students, wanted to make the on-campus residency carbon neutral. Students used carbon calculators to estimate the emissions generated by their travel, and then made donations to the fund based on a rate of $25 per tonne of carbon created. The tradition carries on with residencies today.

“The SAFE Fund provides both funding support and the knowledge that your work is appreciated and supported by fellow students and the university,” says Krusekopf. “It helps students apply their knowledge and experience to address real-world sustainability issues.”

Royal Roads welcomes contributions to the fund from anyone who wants to support sustainable initiatives.