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Today we were inspired by two books about sea turtles. The first is Sea Turtle Scientist (Scientists in the Field Series) by Stephen R. Swinburne. This book for middle grade students reveals Dr. Kimberly Stewart's efforts to investigate and conserve sea turtles on the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts. See a full review of the book at our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.

For younger readers, we found Leatherback Turtles (Reptiles) by Mandy R. Marx with consulting editor Gail Saunders-Smith PhD. This is part of a series of informational books about reptiles featuring short sentences and carefully controlled vocabulary perfect for beginning readers.

Learn about sea turtles:

Sea turtles are pretty amazing creatures. There are currently seven recognized species:

  • leatherback sea turtle
  • green sea turtle
  • loggerhead sea turtle
  • Kemp's ridley sea turtle
  • hawksbill sea turtle
  • flatback sea turtle
  • olive ridley sea turtle

The leatherback sea turtle is in a separate family from the other species. It is the largest turtle, and it is also unique because it lacks a hard shell. Baby loggerheads hatch out of eggs laid in the sand on beaches. The little loggerhead turtles crawl to the sea where they live for 20 to 30 years before they reach maturity. Amazingly, once they are fully grown, the females return to the same beach where they hatched out to lay their eggs.

The Kemp's ridley and olive ridley also return to the beaches where they hatched to lay eggs. These two species, however, are a little different because many, many females return to the same beaches, all at the same time. These mass landings of female sea turtles are called "arribadas."

This video shows a sea turtle arribada from Costa Rica. WARNING for little viewers:  The video does show eggs coming out of the female's body. There's also a graphic scene of vultures feeding on a dead sea turtle around the 2:20 minute mark (near the end).

Scientists are studying how sea turtles can remember the beaches where they hatched and how they know which way to swim to return. One thing they found is that sea turtles can sense the Earth's magnetic field and use it as a guide.

 Did you know that...?

Like whales and dolphins, sea turtles must return to the surface to breathe.

Ways to help sea turtles:

Light pollution is a hazard to sea turtles. Newly-hatched sea turtles use light from the stars and moon and reflections on the water to navigate to the sea. If there are bright lights from human sources around their hatching sites, the sea turtles become disoriented and head inland instead of out to sea, which is usually deadly. Efforts are being organized to cut down excessive lighting along beaches while the sea turtles are hatching.

Finally, sea turtles mistake floating plastic bags for their natural food, jellyfish, and swallow them. The bags are not digestible and can cause death. Protect sea turtles and other animals by making sure plastic bags are properly recycled, or even better, use reusable cloth bags instead.

Related activities and links to lesson plans:

Download the discussion and activities guide for Sea Turtle Scientist at Steve Swinburne's website, as well as posters, leaflets and find links to other great websites.

See Monterey Bay Aquarium's Plastic in the Water Column lesson (scroll down to see link to .pdf lesson) as well as their open sea cam where you might spot a sea turtle.

For more information about related creatures, see our previous week of ocean-themed books and activities at Growing with Science.

Why not combine your STEM lesson with some great art by creating a watercolor sea turtle? Drawing and painting animals requires the same close observation skills so useful to scientists.

Sea Turtle Scientist (Scientists in the Field Series) by Stephen R. Swinburne

Age Range: 10 - 14 years
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (January 7, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0547367554
ISBN-13: 978-0547367552

Leatherback Turtles (Reptiles) by Mandy R. Marx with consulting editor Gail Saunders-Smith PhD

Reading Level:  K-1
Publisher: Capstone Press (January 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1429666463
ISBN-13: 978-1429666466

Disclosures:  Sea Turtle Scientist was provided by our local library. Leatherback Turtles was provided by the publisher for review purposes.  I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.


Today we are going to continue with our ocean science-themed activities for kids, with a fish printing activity based on the Japanese art form, gyotaku.

Gyotaku is wonderful because it incorporates both art and science into a combined learning experience. While making colorful prints, children observe the fish closely. In the process they learn about fish external anatomy, and also details useful in identification of individual species. See this index for an extensive list of examples of gyotaku fish prints by artist Joe McAuliffe.

fishprint- gyotaku

Gyotaku started in Japan as a way for fishermen to record their catch. Traditionally, gyotaku prints were made by applying inks to an actual fish and then pressing thin, but tough paper onto it. Today you can buy rubber or plastic replicas to use for printing. You can print on paper or cloth as you choose. The fish example above is printed on cloth.

You will need:

  • Fish or fish model
  • Block printing inks
  • Cloth or paper
  • Plates or trays for holding the ink
  • Brayer (hand roller for loading and applying ink)
  • Newspapers, old tablecloths or sheets to cover printing surface
  • Fish external anatomy illustrations, such as these fish resources at Exploring Nature Educational Resource (optional)

The process is relatively simple, but may require practice to achieve the desired results. If you are using actual fish, you will need to wash it with water to remove mucous/debris from the surface. Dry the fish. Place some block printing ink into the plates or trays, and ink up the brayer by rolling it through the ink. Apply the ink evenly to the fish. Now you may either press the paper onto the fish or press the fish onto the paper, as evenly as possible. Play around with the technique to see which way works best for you and how much ink is needed. Set the paper or cloth aside and allow to dry.

Traditionally not much else is added to the print, but you can use your imagination. This gyataku print includes seaweed.


There are loads of places to learn more about gyotaku on the Internet, just load up your favorite search engine and go.

Models to use for printing are also available on Amazon (photo is link).

If you live in the Phoenix area, the Desert Botanical Garden has "Fish Out of Water," a gyotaku print exhibit running September 26, 2014 - January 4, 2015.


This post is part of our ocean science series. Visit the landing page for links to all the related posts.


(Note: our usual Tuesday feature, Seed of the Week, will be back next week. Today we are going to visit the ocean. )

Algae and oceans go hand in hand, but what exactly are algae anyway? Are they plants? What are seaweeds and are they related to algae?

seaweed(Public domain photograph of seaweeds by Axel Kuhlmann)

Although algae may be large and appear plant-like, they are actually protists (belong to the Kingdom Protista). They have chlorophyll like plants so they can make their own food from the energy of sunlight, but they lack common plant structures like roots or leaves. Seaweeds, like that shown in the foreground of photograph above, are large forms of algae, also called "macroalgae." The small forms that float around in the water are often called "microalgae" or "phytoplankton."

You may be wondering why anyone would care about algae. Turns out, algae are important in a lot of ways. First of all, algae are the basis for aquatic food chains in both seawater and freshwater. They are also used for food, as fertilizer, and as a source of products such as agar and carrageenan. Algae are being studied as a potential source of biofuel. Let's not forget, they make a significant amount of oxygen. In fact, it is not too farfetched to think that algae might be the most important organisms on the planet!

Activities for kids:

1. Investigate seawater under a microscope

If you have access to a microscope, obtain a sample of seawater (or pondwater) and take a look at what is in it. Look for green, blue-green or even brown or red organisms that are algae. Examining samples under a microscope is fun because it often leads to surprises.

2. Make an algal collection

You can make a collection of pieces of algae or seaweed you find at the beach, similar to the way you make a plant collection. Some of them can have beautiful shapes and colors.

640px-Adolphe_Millot_algues(Illustration Adolphe Millot algues public domain from Wikimedia)

Gather pieces of algae on the beach and keep it moist in seawater. Once you are home, float the seaweed/algae onto a piece of heavy paper. Press the paper between layers of felt to remove the water and allow it to dry. The Hawaii Botany Department has step-by-step instructions on how to make an algal herbarium.


example-image(Figure 3 - Seaweeds are pressed on herbarium sheets for further study and repository in botanical Herbaria. The species that Dr. Suzanne Fredericq is pressing was found at about 66 m depth (200 ft) in the West Flower Garden Banks, and represents a new record for the Gulf of Mexico. -From NOAA)

If you don’t want to disturb nature, which is a good idea, you can take close up photographs of what you find instead. You can share what you discover via blogs, websites or photo streams.

Once you have a collection, visit some of these websites to help you identify what you have. Seaweeds are not too easy to identify, but you might at least figure out which group your sample belongs to.

Biomara has an extensive booklet of activities/lessons about algae to download (30.3 MB). The link for the "entire teaching resource" is right above the "Information for Teachers" bold header. It contains large color photographs of many common "macroalgae."

Who knows where studying algae might lead you. Perhaps you will be inspired to become a marine botanist, like Sylvia Earle (previous post).


This post is part of our ocean science series. Visit the landing page for links to all the related posts.