By Michaela Hurley
As a student at Barrington High School, part of the graduation requirements is to complete a senior research project with a fieldwork component. I knew that I definitely wanted to focus my project in the area of environmental science. I had heard about the Barrington Terrapin Research Project, so I called Charlotte Sornborger, the project’s principal investigator. Mrs. Sornborger has been involved with the Barrington Diamondback Research Project since its inception 23 years ago. I could not have asked for a more qualified mentor to help me study the diamondback terrapin. Ms. Sornborger graciously volunteered to mentor me and teach me all about Barrington’s diamondbacks. She explained to me what the fieldwork would involve, and it sounded so interesting!
As a field assistant for the Barrington Terrapin Research Project, I had numerous responsibilities. Mrs. Sornborger, as well as other seasoned volunteers, taught me everything that I needed to know in order to be part of the team. In early May, I had to clear an area of the turtle’s traditional nesting grounds by raking up the leaves and pulling weeds. In late May through late June, I worked as part of the research team to capture and identify returning females for the sake of recording data. During the 2012 nesting season, I helped to identify 178 different diamondback terrapin females nesting at Nockham Hill. We then carefully relocated the eggs to the common excluder, or placed individual excluders over the nests. Once the babies hatched, I helped record the number of live and dead hatchings, and then released the live hatchlings from excluders. This was probably my favorite part of the experience. I know that it is not very scientific to say so, but I think the hatchlings were adorable! During the summer of 2012, there were a grand total of 390 live hatchlings; the highest number of live hatchlings ever recorded in the 23-year study. It felt so rewarding to be a part of such a successful conservation endeavor.
This direct experience provided me with the opportunity to study a fascinating animal while working with some wonderful people My senior thesis paper, entitled “Diamondbacks in the Rough,” was based partly on this experience. In my paper, I explored the numerous threats facing this species, and I outlined effective conservation strategies. Of course, I included some of the conservation strategies which I learned first-hand through my fieldwork. Next summer, I look forward to continuing my involvement with the Barrington Diamondback Terrapin Project. Then in the fall, I will begin school at Tufts University, where I plan on studying biology.