Save the turtles! became the battle cry of students at KLO Middle School when the little shelled creatures were discovered in the school's long jump pit. It didn't take long for the students to leap into action.
"Around this time last year, we were practicing long jump and triple jump in these pits and some students found some turtles and turtle eggs," says Fiona Lockhart, who along with classmate Kolby Zinger-Harris, are documenting the entire project.
"We rescued some of the turtles and put them in an aquarium, nurtured them and took care of them until they were big enough and we released them back into Fascieux Creek," says Lockhart.
The little reptiles are Western Painted Turtles and they're struggling for survival.
"I've had kids in tears because of this and this should be all protected," says KLO teacher Michelle Hamilton. "The turtles are also considered an at risk species. They're blue listed, a special concern with the species at risk act, so it has to be protected."
"This area (the schoolyard) was originally a wetland before it was developed," says Zinger-Harris. "Since the turtles have come back we're trying to recreate the wetland and build it again so that they have somewhere to come to every year."
The long jump pit was moved to the opposite end of the schoolyard since the discovery, and on Friday a large number of KLO grade seven students began the work of rebuilding the area and protecting the habitat.
It's a project that will become a learning tool at the school for years to come. The lessons learned won't simply include learning about the environment and habitats, but also how students can bring about effective change and learn to deal with real world politics.
"Well, the school board has not approved our wetland yet," says Hamilton.
The proposal calls for the restoration of the stretch of the creek running through school property by removing the concrete pads currently covering the creek and the creation of a Wetland area where the nesting turtles were found.
"We presented that to the school board (last year), we had the Mayor (Sharon Shepherd) here to listen to our presentation, Councilor Angela Reid came as well, the ministry of the environment was very supportive as was the city." says Hamilton.
She says initially it appeared they would get the go ahead for the project as presented, but last week they were told the board did not approve the wetlands.
"Staff has looked at this and it's a staff recommendation, but it's a long way from being approved by the board, and the committee may not agree with my recommendations," says Alan Cumbers, Director of Operations for School District 23.
Staff, while in favour of the overall restoration plan, asked if the wetland area could be "flipped" to the south side of the creek, instead of the north side. They hoped the new location would still meet all the needs the students are looking for, while still allowing for future expansion.
"Doing the creek as they would like to have, that restores it back to the way it used to be. It's not as if it's putting it back to the way it was 20 years ago," says Cumbers.
The area in question is just west of the school buildings, and could be used for future expansion by the school, although Hamilton argues those plans are vague.
"There was never an indication that they would build here. They said eventually in 30 years the school's going to expand. So now what they're saying is they've changed their mind and now they think they're going to build here, that they can put three portables here, so that's why you can't have your wetland here," she said.
The problem, Hamilton explains, is the area proposed for the wetlands was built over an old landfill site and unsuitable for wetlands. It's also the last green section on school property not used by the athletic department.
Student Sam Conway says she's upset by the school board's stance. "The school board has said the creek restoration is a good idea, but they want us to move the creek to the south side. The problem is the school board won't build there but there telling us to go there."
The plan also called for a creation of an outdoor classroom in the wetland. "I teach science and environmental education. I started environmental education three years ago to connect students with nature. They are completely disconnected. Students think food comes from the grocery store." says Hamilton.
Another reason for not moving the wetland area is the turtles naturally want to return there. On Thursday, a clutch of turtle eggs was discovered near the sight of last year's discovery. Sadly, only two turtles from a nest of ten eggs survived.
The nests are buried about ten centimetres underground, and as result, not noticeable to passersby. Eight of the eggs were crushed, and one of the surviving turtles was injured. Since the turtles tend to plant as many as four nests at a time, they suspect there are other eggs currently hidden in the ground near the area.
Earth Day is April 22, and students across the province will celebrate their entries in the third annual B.C. Green Games. Science World’s contest that rewards students’ eco‐actions. Winners of the contest included ten teams from grades K‐7 and ten teams from grades 8‐12, and all received $1,000 each for their school.
This year, the grade seven students earned a place on that list after discovering the family of turtles, and then taking steps to protect them. For now, students are working at protecting the areas where the nests have been discovered, working on the creek restoration and trying to convince the board to leave the wetlands where they belong.
A delegation of students are planning to appeal to the school board next Wednesday night in an effort to convince the trustees to keep the wetland space north of the creek.