Micah Cox reluctantly looked inside a green plastic bucket from which half a dozen small turtles were trying to escape.
“He’s working on his bravery,” said Gabe Cox, his mom, as the 5-year-old inched his hand in to pick up one of the creatures.
Micah was part of a group of home-schooled children visiting Sunfish Lake in Ramsey on a recent weekday morning. They were measuring and weighing western painted turtles as part of a nationwide ecology project called Turtle Pop.
Kristen Genet, an Anoka-Ramsey Community College biology professor who is spearheading the project locally, said about 30 colleges from across the country are participating. Researchers use the data provided by the schools to estimate turtle population size and to monitor growth.
“You end up with a very large data set from a large geographical area,” Genet said. “I’m hoping the kids come away with an understanding, appreciation and respect for the lake ecosystem and the creatures that live there.”
At Sunfish Lake, Genet’s biology students helped a dozen school-aged kids collect information on 29 turtles.
Genet said she had hoped for a large sampling but hadn’t expected to capture as many turtles as they did.
While Micah and some of the other kids were a little hesitant about holding the turtles, two of the older boys were enthralled. Ethan Cox, Micah’s 7-year-old brother, and Nehemiah Rousu, 8, took turns holding each turtle as the other employed measuring instruments.
“This is so cool,” Ethan said.
With help from parents and the college students, the young researchers measured the turtles’ shells, claws and tails. They also weighed them and gave them a permanent identifying mark before releasing them back into the water.
Last year, Genet asked several home-school mothers she knew if they would like to participate in a science project. The response was enthusiastic, with the moms whose children had participated previously asking to invite other home-schooling families.
“It’s been a great partnership,” Genet said.
Trish Rousu, Nehemiah’s mom, traveled from Big Lake with her four children for the turtle trek. Home schooling can present challenges such as finding field trips and free programs for her children, she said.
Gabe Cox said she has difficulty finding science-related projects for her two sons. “That hands-on experience is important for them,” she said.
This year, 30 home-schooled children, including some returning from last year, were split between two sessions in Ramsey. “They are older now and had the experience,” Genet said of the six returning students. “They are very comfortable, and knew what to do and took charge.”
After about two hours at the lake during the first session, some of the children mustered enough courage to hold the turtles — including Micah.
“Anyone can be scientists,” Genet said at the lake. “You’re all scientists today.”