“So that’s a Green Sea Turtle. We actually don’t usually keep sea turtles for very long because the Houston Zoo acts as a rehab facility for injured sea turtles.”
Ashley Hayward is a conservation intern at the zoo. As part of her eight-week-long internship, she educates visitors on the zoo’s sea turtle conservation effort.
“Sea turtles are very important. One, for biodiversity. Their lineage goes all the way past some dinosaurs that have been extinct for over 65 million years, and the turtle is still here. That’s definitely something special.”
Green Sea Turtles like the one currently on display in the zoo’s aquarium also help keep seaweed off the beaches.
“Like all the seaweed that people see, if we had more of these sea turtles, we wouldn’t see so much of that. Because that’s what they eat, they eat a lot of sea grass.”
The Houston Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program is now in its third year. Sea turtles are not the only animals that the college students learn to protect. Interns spend several days a week at other wildlife conservation sites in and around Houston and do different projects.
An educational station at the Houston Zoo’s Kipp Aquarium informs people on the types of sea turtles that can be found around Galveston Bay. From right to left: Samantha Maher, Rebecca Esterline, Johanna Janis, Alyssa York
Samantha Maher is an international relations major at the University of Texas.
“We’re doing a project that we’re hoping to get funded from Exxon Mobil. We’ve been working on it the whole eight-week internship. And our project is a mobile application designed for parks, so that people can go to parks and get a species guide, they can get an interactive map, photo safari. So that’s another big thing that we’ve been doing through this internship.”
She says a lot of people are surprised to learn about the variety of sea turtle species that can be found in the Galveston Bay.
“I didn’t know we had five turtle species and I’m interested in this kind of stuff, so a lot of surprise. People are interested that we have such an interesting species that does come into a place we think of as maybe being only related to humans, like, that Galveston does have a large population of interesting species of wildlife.”
Nesting season runs from April through July. Those who spot any sea turtles or their tracks on the beach are asked to call 1-866-TURTLE-5 (1-866-887-8535).
Beachgoers should also take extra care when driving near beaches and clean up any debris or fishing lines they find on the beach or in the water.