Hugh Merkle Team - COMPASS RE

Students Resume Terrapin Release Tradition

Posted June 28th 2021

The kindergarten and first-grade classes at Stone Harbor Elementary School resumed a three-decade tradition with a field trip to The Wetlands Institute to release diamondback terrapins on June 8. The students spent the school year participating in the Diamondback Terrapin Turtle Project, created by retired teacher Roberta Dean.

Dean created the project 31 years ago, and to date more than 500 kindergarten students have participated. The current kindergarten teacher, Brie Schenck, continued the project after Dean’s retirement in 2016, and spends the year educating students about the diamondback terrapin, and the institute’s “head start” program.

During the nesting season for diamondback terrapins, Wetlands Institute staff patrols the roads for injured or deceased turtles struck by motor vehicles. Undamaged eggs from the terrapin are retrieved and artificially incubated. The hatchlings are put into a year-long head start program and then released back into the wild. Students visit the institute at the end of the year, and release the head start terrapins back into the bay, after giving each a name and bidding it safe travels, of course.

Traditionally, as students learn about the head start program, they also sell “turtle cookies” throughout the school year, and have the opportunity to donate the proceeds to the institute during their visit. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the kindergarten class of 2020 was not able to visit last year, and this year’s class was not able to sell cookies. So instead, donation requests were sent to students’ families, and the kindergarten and first-grade classes traveled together to the institute for a visit. The students, with a match from Sturdy Savings Bank and an additional donation from Edith Perry, the mother to kindergarten aide Sue Jones, presented donations amounting to more than $800. Following the visit, local businesses Nesting and Island Watersports further matched the donation with $250 each, providing an additional $500 donation to the Institute.

“The turtle release has been a tradition for more than 30 years,” says Dr. Renee Murtaugh, supervisor of curriculum and instruction for Avalon Stone Harbor Schools. “We are so fortunate to have a close partnership with The Wetlands Institute that brings amazing programs to the students in Avalon Stone Harbor Schools. We look forward to continuing this tradition for many more years to come.”

For more information on The Wetlands Institute and its conservation, research, and education programs, go to

The Hugh Merkle Team - COMPASS Office: 609-368-9100
374 96th Street, Stone Harbor
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