NJ Teachers Investigate Terrapins’ Storm-Modified Habitat

Led by QUEST at Lighthouse Center in Waretown
Jul 22, 2013
Photo by: Kelley Anne Essinger Middle school and high school teachers Pete Passe and Nevena Rakonjac relax on the boat before heading out to the marsh.

A group of eight New Jersey teachers who studied at the Lighthouse Center for Natural Resource Education in Waretown stood around the dock at Bob’s Bay Marina in Barnegat discussing the impact of severe weather on terrapin populations (and old LBI memories) just before 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 11. The crew was spending its last day in the QUEST teacher preparation program, an institute taught by Princeton University faculty and staff, and scientists from neighboring institutions, gathering data from a local salt marsh on Barnegat Bay. The field-based program had been designed to enhance the teachers’ content knowledge and skills for inquiry-based teaching through hands-on experiments and discussion, while simultaneously supporting terrapin research.

Dan Rubenstein, president of the biology department at Princeton, created the program last year after he questioned Jules Winters, a Drexel University Ph.D. candidate, on what has been eating terrapins. Winters, who has studied the effects of human development and bulkheading on terrapin nesting behavior for the past five years, said she did not have the answer to that question because it was out of the scope of her research. Of course, it was still important to investigate, she added.

Winters led the teachers on a voyage to the marsh, where they helped capture, tag and track terrapins in their estuary environment to make comparisons between pre- and post-Superstorm Sandy habitat use. By drawing upon theory and first principles, the teachers carried out a study that assessed how terrapins have adjusted to their storm-modified marsh habitat.

— Kelley Anne Essinger


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