By Sydney Hembrough
Photo/Special to The Source Newspaper
Will Grojean casts a net in a salt marsh while attending a Sea Turtle Camp.
Summer time is full of camps for kids – basketball camp, dance camp, scout camps. The list goes on and on. One young adventurer packed his bags and flew to North Carolina for a camp unlike any other. Will Grojean, a 13-year-old from Jacksonville, recently attended Sea Turtle Camp on Top Sail Island. From a very young age, Will’s mother, Amy Grojean, knew he was a different type of kid. Moving from St. Louis where he attended a school with a greenhouse and lots of clubs that catered towards various hobbies, Amy realized that the small community here in Jacksonville did not have many opportunities that nurtured his passions. She said “We have five kids and each of them needs something different to feel loved and to grow. Will is an adventurer and needs us to let him go to flourish, which isn’t always easy for me, but it is necessary.” When Amy realized they weren’t spending money on sports gear, camps and tournaments for Will, she decided to research camps that catered towards his love of biology and marine life. This is when she found Whale Camp in Canada. She told her then 10-year old son about the camp, and he decided to spend his birthday money to attend it. After learning a lot about whale observation, he decided he wanted to save his money again to attend another camp in three years – Sea Turtle Camp. Unlike most kids his age, Will was able to see the value of experiences over material things. “Often times, I wanted to use my money to buy something I wanted, but then I didn’t. I am definitely glad I didn’t,” Will explained regarding his decision to save up for the camp.
Sea Turtle Camp is for 13 to 15-year-old kids, most of which are interested in zoology or marine biology. Grojean noted that he was one of the only campers who was not from a coast, making this a very eye-opening experience for him. During his time at the 11-day camp, the kids learned how to identify sea turtles, how to care for them and ways to prevent more sea turtles from entering hospitals. Every two days, the campers went to a sea turtle hospital where they fed the turtles and cleaned out the tanks. Then, they would go to a “sick bay” full of sick and injured sea turtles and wash them. Grojean said that everyone’s favorite turtle was named Canal. Canal was hit by a boat, causing a crack in his shell. As the shell healed, it developed an air bubble in it, preventing him from diving. Grojean learned that one of the main problems with sea turtles is when they float to the top. Often times, turtles will get into cold water and get “stunned,” forcing them to the top where algae and parasite grow on them and it is very easy to get hit by boats. Grojean explained how humans pose a threat to sea turtles, as well. He told the story of one turtle who was illegally caught by a fisherman who, instead of finding help for the turtle, slashed a gash into its chest in hopes of it sinking to the bottom of the water. Fortunately, it didn’t end up sinking, but it was then rescued and brought to the hospital.
While he was there, Grojean learned about sea turtle rescuing practices. One of the ways they help injured turtles to prepare for their release is through a therapy pool. The pool has currents running through it, so turtles can get used to running water and the waves of the ocean. Another way they helped turtles like Canal, who was only able to float, was by putting them in a special pool that keeps the turtles underwater, allowing them to sleep.
Grojean also learned a lot about the importance of recycling and the threat plastic poses on the lives of sea turtles. During a lesson, the campers brainstormed ways to eliminate plastic from the oceans. Grojean’s idea was to completely stop the production of plastic and use the plastic retrieved from the ocean as an unlimited resource to manufacture things that we need. He also acknowledged the fact that not everyone will have the opportunity to attend and volunteer at a camp like Sea Turtle Camp, so to those people he said this: “You could recycle things instead of having to buy another water bottle over and over again. Reuse things that aren’t single use.” He emphasized the importance of doing things to help the efforts right here in our non-coastal town.
Upon reflecting on his decision to attend the camp, Grojean said that he learned many valuable things that would make him want to return to another one of the four camps offered. His next goal is to save up enough money to attend Scuba Camp after getting a little lesson in scuba diving at the Sea Turtle Camp. His mother also realized the value of nurturing your kids’ passions, especially at a young age. “When they are passionate about something, there’s no reason you can’t foster that in your kid at a young age,” she said. “When I saw the pictures of him out on the boat, I saw that he was finally in his element. I never get to see him that way,” she explained. She emphasized that even though his experiences are paired with a lot of anticipation and build up to the events, it is worth it in the end to see him flourish and grow.
Grojean wants to be a zoologist when he grows up. His mother, although scared to let him go, is actively encouraging him to attend a school on the coast with some of the best marine programs in the country. “Sometimes he asks me if I really think he will be able to be a biologist,” Amy said, “And I say, ‘Yes, I really do.’”
We all have dreams and passions. Will Grojean is a prime example of going after what you want and turning those dreams into a reality. It is never too early to start making your dream come true and acting on the things that make you unique.