Front row from left to right: Kyra Johnson, Olivia Peterson, Katie Kordesh, Kendra Schemmel, Emma Mills-Rittmann, Rebecca Tripp. Back row from left to right: Tom McConnell, Shelby Stallard, Sami Pfaff, Natalie Rokosz, Mary Brown, Julie Xiao, Barbara Giorgio-Booher, Sarah DeMars. Kyra Johnson, Photo Provided
Students study sea creatures to create children's books
While some students were surfing the waves over spring break, a class was studying animals that are found beyond the shore.
Twelve students, along with associate art professor, Barbara Giorgio-Booher and associate biology professor, Tom McConnell, traveled to Florida over spring break to study manatees, seahorses and sea turtles to add three books to the “Conservation Tales” series.
is a series of children’s books that tell fictional stories about a specific animal. The stories provide a way for children to understand how they can protect the environment. Currently, there are four species featured in the series including bats, salamanders, bees and the cerulean warbler.
“The books will finish up with a list of conservation actions,” McConnell said. “For instance, one of the highlights of these books is cutting back plastics that end up in the environments where these animals live.”
The students traveled to the cities of Crystal River, Homosassa and Sarasota, Florida, to study the next featured species in order to write the next three books in the series.
Mote Marine Laboratory, one of the facilities the students visited in Florida, had large sculptures of animals, including one that looked like a sea turtle riding a wave, made from plastic recovered from the ocean, said sophomore Rebecca Tripp.
“These huge sculptures of trash found in the ocean brings awareness to how much trash there is,” Tripp said.
Mote Marine employees also let the students go “behind the scenes” into areas not open to the public, McConnell said.
Senior graphic design major Kendra Schemmel, one of the students working on the sea turtle tale, said she enjoyed getting to see the sea turtles at Mote Marine Laboratory and the researchers let her team stay back in the hospital wing to sketch the sea turtles.
“It was really helpful learning from their natural movements, rather than photos, which are just still images,” Schemmel said. “I think [sketching from a live environment] is definitely going to help improve the book’s quality.”
Schemmel said she also got to see Mote Marine’s surgery room, X-ray room, recovery room and bone room.
“[The recovery room] has these big, swimming-pool-type looking circles. [The animals] try not to have as much human contact as possible because they’ll imprint and become dependent on the humans to survive,” Schemmel said.
Although there are other books in the series, this is the first time students have traveled to Florida in order to study the animals they are writing about.
McConnell, the creator of the series, said faculty at Mote Marine was excited to have them and invited them back to study other marine animals, too.
“Before the students got there, they suggested that they wanted us to work on three or four more books with them, so this trip may be the start of a hopefully long-term relationship with Mote Marine,” McConnell said.
In an effort to continue that partnership the lab suggested students write books about sharks and coral.
“One of the books they really want us to work on is about coral. They have a facility that is breeding coral to repopulate reefs where they’ve been damaged,” McConnell said. “Their facility is in the Florida Keys, so they’ve got some dorms — they want to bring students down for a while. I’m really excited about that possibility.”
McConnell said the class plans to have the books published around June.
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