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Zoo New England receives national award for conservation

Zoo New England (ZNE) was awarded top honors in the North American Conservation Award category for our Hatchling Turtle Conservation Through Headstarting (HATCH) program. The award was presented on September 13 during the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums conference, held in Columbus, Ohio.

“We are deeply honored to receive this recognition from our peers,” said John Linehan, President and CEO of Zoo New England. “This recognition reflects our commitment to wildlife conservation, education and community engagement. We believe that education is a powerful tool for change, and our HATCH program is a testament to our dedication to nurture young minds and foster a sense of responsibility toward the natural world."

The HATCH program is a long-running ZNE conservation-based education program focused on the conservation and support of local turtle species including Blanding’s, wood, and spotted turtles. Through the program, students and teachers from participating schools have the opportunity to actively and significantly participate in a real-world rare species conservation program by raising hatchling turtles in their classrooms throughout the school year. Last year, staff engaged more than 2,300 students from schools in Massachusetts. After being headstarted, the survival rate of these turtles, which are released back into the wild, increases exponentially.

By giving them this “headstart,” students directly help conserve and enhance dwindling turtle populations by dramatically increasing the odds that each turtle cared for will survive to adulthood. At the same time, students collect and analyze data on hatchlings’ growth while learning about the ecology and importance of our freshwater wetlands. By helping protect native biodiversity and restoring healthy wetlands in their communities, students learn that they can be agents of change in a small but significant way.

“We have been fortunate to collaborate with wonderful schools, students and educators throughout this program,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, Vice President of Animal Health and Conservation. “This impactful classroom experience enriches student education while instilling a sense of responsibility for the environment and wildlife in younger generations. We’re thrilled to advance turtle conservation within classrooms, inspire the next generation of conservation stewards, and make a significant impact on our rare turtle populations right here in eastern Massachusetts.”

As an integral part of the work with local schools, biologists from ZNE’s Field Conservation team provide high-quality indoor classroom presentations and lead field trips built around the students’ participation in the turtle headstarting program.

ZNE’s award-winning turtle conservation initiatives, which are done with careful coordination and collaboration with state wildlife officials and other partners, have been instrumental in raising awareness about the challenges facing local turtle populations and have already had measureable results for the turtle populations. Through innovative educational programs, hands-on experiences, and collaborative partnerships with local schools, the Zoo has successfully engaged thousands of students in learning about turtle conservation, as well as the incredible biodiversity found in their own back yards and neighborhoods.