A 17-year-old US Lemon Bay High School student and Palm Island resident who qualified as a finalist in the 6th Annual Volvo for Life Awards, has designated Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Programme to receive a donation from Volvo.
Zander Srodes qualified as a finalist in the Volvo for Life Awards for his work educating the public – particularly school and youth groups - about the worldwide plight of sea turtles.
The Volvo for Life Awards is a grassroots campaign to recognise and reward everyday heroes across America. Each year, three main award winners and six finalists are chosen. In honour of their exceptional achievements, each is allowed to choose a charity to receive a donation from Volvo.
In 2001, when Zander was 11, he learned of the issues that sea turtles face in the wild from Linda Soderquist, an artist and Venice Elementary School teacher, who monitored sea turtle nests on Gasparilla Island.
After Zander began walking nesting beaches himself, he decided to create his own educational programme for children and adults to tell them how they could help change the fate of the animals.
“My first stop was Mote Marine Lab, in Sarasota,” Zander said.
Jerris Foote, former manager of Mote’s Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Programme, provided Zander with slides and information for a powerpoint presentation.
Members of Sarasota County’s Natural Resources Department provided handouts. Other supporters included the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and Coastal Wildlife Club, Inc.
With these tools in hand, Zander created his own programme and began presenting talks to various groups. He applied for, and received, a grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice, which helped him kickoff the project.
Additional grants from the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Programme helped support publication of the “Turtle Talks Activity Book,” which was illustrated by Soderquist.
Today, Zander has presented his Turtle Talks to more than 1,000 students in Sarasota, Charlotte, Hardee and Lee counties and has distributed 100,000 copies of his Activity Book. The book has also been translated into French and Spanish and Zander was able to travel to Trinidad, Costa Rica and Panama to hand-deliver books to students there.
Zander decided to pick Mote as his charity of choice because of the programme’s history and its current research.
“It is really the greatest resource in our area,” Zander said.
“Having the chance to intern with Dr Tony Tucker and the rest of the sea turtle staff and volunteers has been a great opportunity to learn how a research programme is run.”
Dr Tucker, current manager of Mote’s Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Programme, was honoured by Zander’s donation.
“By creating his Turtle Talks programme, Zander has shown that even young students can make a difference in the lives of sea turtles,” Dr Tucker said.
“This new contribution from Volvo and Zander will also help sea turtles in a concrete way by supporting research to monitor and track animals in the wild. We can’t thank Zander enough.”
Zander has just finished a book on the gopher tortoise, which is increasingly losing habitat to development. The book has been printed at 20,000 copies are being distributed to students in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
This year, Zander is a high school senior and intern in Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation Programme.
“Working with Tony is full circle for me,” Zander says.
“Sometimes when I walk into the lab, I think back to that day when I was in the sixth grade and I came to talk about my idea for a conservation programme. I was a little kid and they acted like they knew that someday I would walk back in that office as one of them - at least they made me believe it could happen.”
Zander has been accepted to the University of Hawaii, where he hopes to continue his Turtle Talks even as he works toward a degree in wildlife conservation.
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