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Baltimore student will help protect tortoises

Baltimore student will help protect tortoises

BALTIMORE – While her friends look forward to summer vacations, Baltimore resident Jessica Kernan’s summer trip to South America will see her working for the preservation of the giant Galapagos tortoise.

The daughter of Greg and Laurie Kernan, Jessica has signed on for the Global Leadership Adventures trek to the Galapagos Islands from July 1 to 18 to work on eliminating invasive species that threaten their population.

Invasive species refers to a plant or animal not native to an area which comes in and takes over resources that have sustained life indigenous to that area. The invasive species of most imminent concern in the work Jessica will do is a plant that prevents access to the nesting grounds for the giant Galapagos tortoise.

“It’s really important for that to be clear,” she said in a recent interview.

When they say giant, that means the huge 500-lb. tortoise is easily knee-high or taller on an adult.

The protection of this population was a prime reason the Galapagos National Park was established in the 1960s. They were down to 12 females and three males.

Organizers set to work establishing programs to protect that tortoise species and, in time, the first baby spotted in a century came along. Back from the brink of extinction, they now number about 1,500.

Laurie Kernan cited research that shows the giant Galapagos tortoise is one of the remaining two groups of giant tortoises in the world, the other living in the vicinity of the Indian Ocean.

Such preserves are so important, Jessica said, in protecting species at risk from being in a situation where people take over.

Jessica is grateful to the Rotary Club of Cobourg for the $2,000 kick-start to get her there. Between now and July, she will be pursuing other fundraising efforts.

It’s a lot to add to her already-busy schedule of coaching volleyball and her work with the CDCI West student council and Interact Club, not to mention keeping up her grades in preparation for being part of the final class to graduate from the West.

But she has certainly fundraised for an important trip before. She went to Africa last year as part of the contingent in the Journey of Hope project which East Northumberland Secondary School principal Jeff Kawzenuk and Port Hope High School principal Steve Truelove have organized for almost 10 years.

Along with the tours, Jessica loved the time she spent painting the school and teaching the young children.

“I am so grateful for that opportunity,” she said.

She cherishes the awareness she got from the trip, and the appreciation for the simple things she has in her own life — the humble bathroom most of us take for granted, for example.

Another thing she got from the trip came from talking with a girl in her group and learning about Global Leadership adventures. She had participated in a project to save the beaches of the Dominican Republic, but Jessica wanted a wildlife-preservation project.

Marine biology has been a dream of hers for years, and she was especially inspired by the work of the Clearwater Rescue Centre in Florida that reached millions through the movie Dolphin Tale.

That vision, combined with her love of travel, will take her to Halifax in the fall to study marine biology at Dalhousie University.

Her work in the Galapagos Islands will be a good introduction to the field.

cecilia.nasmith@sunmedia.ca

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