A Baltimore Zoo educator is heading to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, leaving the land of the Maryland terrapin to help save endangered sea turtles.
Jennifer A. Kureen will leave Sunday for her second Australia trip in as many years, to live in a beach camp through December and much of January -- peak summer months Down Under -- while watching over the egg-laying rituals of female loggerhead and flatback turtles.
Ms. Kureen, 35, says the trip -- taken at her own expense with no salary -- provides a unique opportunity to work with turtle researchers, picking up firsthand conservation experience and helping to teach the hundreds of people who visit the area.
The closest thing to a giant sea turtle at the Baltimore Zoo, where Ms. Kureen has worked for five years, is the large plastic turtle shells that youngsters can crawl in at the Children's Zoo. As director of the Zoomobile education outreach program, she works with box turtles, insects, small reptiles and mammals.
Still, the Australian odyssey is valuable, she said, because "conservation education relates to all animals in the zoo.
"I have chosen the sea turtle, because it is one of my personal interests," she said. "But all the animals have a story -- even our native turtles like the box turtle. I'll tell the kids that if each of them picked one up and took it home, there wouldn't be any box turtles left in the state."
Ms. Kureen said she started her education career in a more conventional way -- teaching home economics and health in New Hampshire and in New York, where an opening as education coordinator at a small zoo lured her out of the classroom.
She also worked at nature centers and another zoo and cared for university lab animals before moving to Baltimore.
In Australia, she will be among about 150 volunteers during the peak egg-laying season working at the Mon Repos Environmental Park, in the middle of the east coast at the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef.
The public beach is blocked off during the season, and hundreds of people come by at night to learn about the sea turtles, watch them lay and bury eggs in the dunes, and escort them back to the surf.
She said living in the beach camp is inexpensive because participants chip in about $10 a week for food and there is no rent.
She said that relatives will help her with the biggest expense -- airfare -- and a friend will care for her pets.