Clara Garner, a Marian student who graduated in May with a B.A. in Biological Sciences and a minor in communication, spent her last semester at Marian educating K-12 students about Eastern Box Turtles. Her interest in box turtles originally started with a project on box turtles while taking Vertebrate Biology with Dr. Joyce Horton. Working with Stephanie Schuck (Outdoor Education and Restoration Coordinator for the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab), the class initiated research on the eastern box turtle in the EcoLab. The Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab consists of about 75 acres of restored wetland, forest, and prairie habitats, and many box turtles currently call the EcoLab their home. The Eastern Box Turtle (Terrepene carolina carolina) was once an abundant species in the eastern United States, but in recent years population numbers have significantly declined mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation, collection for the pet trade, and road mortality. It is now listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, is a protected species in Indiana, and is listed as a species of special concern by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
As Garner learned more about the species and the issues it faces, she decided she wanted to use her ability to teach others as a way to help with the conservation and management of box turtles and their preferred habitats. She states, "while working one day in my classroom at Pebble Brook Preschool, I was sharing with my class the research that I do and the kids were super interested in why I would care so much about turtles to the point that I would track them. this generated the idea that I could use the box turtle project as an example of why it is so important to be advocates for our ecosystems. Plus, children are our future so we need to educate them on their roles in the ecosystem". With this framework in mind, Garner worked with her advisor, Dr. Horton, to create a presentation and provide it for students in the Indianapolis and surrounding areas. She visited 18 schools and spoke to 50 classrooms in total, speaking mostly to 2nd-4th grade students. The information in her presentations aligned with the Indiana Common Core standards, and the students and teachers really seemed to enjoy it! Garner stated that it was important for her to provide the students with a fun and interactive presentation that engaged students, helped them understand how humans impact the environment, and that gave the students some things they could do in the future to help box turtle conservation.