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Sea Turtle Math


Predicting the Future of Endangered Hawksbills

Students are introduced to a real-world conservation issue through Peace Corps Volunteer Sarah Klain's slideshow about sea turtle populations in Palau. Given data on the current status of Hawksbill Turtles, students use algebra to complete a mathematical puzzle, in which they predict how much longer Hawksbills will nest in Palau if their current rate of decline continues. Students discuss current conservation efforts in Palau and make recommendations for future strategies.

Hawksbill Turtles
World Wildlife Fund—Hawksbill Turtle

Sea Turtle Conservation
State of the World's Sea Turtles (SWOT)
NOAA—Sea Turtle Protection and Conservation 


  • Students will describe the sea turtle conservation problem in Palau and evaluate the strategies conservationists are employing in response
  • Students will apply algebraic reasoning to a real-world problem
  • Students will use, represent, and interpret data


  • Conservation: Careful protection or preservation of something
  • Endangered: Threatened with extinction
  • Extinct: No longer existing
  • Moratorium: Suspension of an activity
  • Poach: To kill or take illegally
  • Population: Group of individuals (e.g. people, turtles) in a certain area
  • Tagging: Marking for purposes of a study 


1. Discuss what students know about endangered species and population decline. Ask:

  • What does it mean for an animal species to be endangered?
  • What are some examples of endangered animal species?
  • How do species become endangered?
  • How do scientists know that an animal population is declining in a certain area of the world? Globally?
  • What is conservation? What can people do to help declining populations?

2. Introduce Sarah Klain as a Peace Corps Volunteer who worked on sea turtle conservation in Palau. If students are unfamiliar with Peace Corps, share some background information from the Peace Corps website. Ask students to locate Palau on a world map. Discuss what students know about this area of the world.

3. View Sarah Klain's slideshow Tracking Turtles in the Western Pacific located below. After viewing the slideshow, ask students to discuss these questions in small groups:

  • How were Sarah and her community able to collect data on the turtles?
  • What was causing sea turtle populations to decline in Palau?
  • How were sea turtles culturally important to Palauans?
  • What were people in Palau doing to help sea turtle populations recover?

4. Visit the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.This site provides up-to-date information on the global conservation status of species. Search for "Hawksbill Turtle" and find its current conservation status. Based on this information and the slideshow, discuss whether the situation in Palau provides an accurate snapshot of the global circumstances of Hawksbill Turtles.

5. Explain to students that they will use data from the IUCN to calculate how much longer Hawksbill Turtles will breed in Palau if they continue declining at their current global rate. Distribute the Hawksbill Turtle Math Puzzle and allow time for students to work in small groups to solve it.

6. Discuss students' findings.

  • Based on your calculations, do you believe immediate conservation action is necessary?
  • Do you think the conservation work that Sarah and Joshua were doing in Palau (e.g. tracking and counting turtles, working to protect their nesting areas, educating the public) will be effective in helping Palau's turtle population? Why or why not?
  • What else would you recommend doing to reduce the rate of decline?  

Frameworks & Standards

Enduring Standards

  • Human activities may have positive or negative impacts for other species.
  • Practices within a culture may change with resource availability.
  • Mathematical and scientific thinking can be useful for determining sustainable actions and for conserving threatened species.

Essential Questions

  • How do humans interact with other living things within their environments?
  • How can cultural practices be adapted when they are no longer sustainable?
  • How can the interpretation of scientific data help communities sustain their local resources and protect the environments in which they live?


Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

  • Expressions and Equations
    • Solve real-life and mathematical problems using numerical and algebraic expressions and equations.
    • Understand the connections between proportional relationships, lines, and linear equations.
    • Analyze and solve linear equations

National Science Education Standards

  • Content Standard C: Life Science
    • Populations and ecosystems
  • Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    • Populations, resources, and environments

U.S. National Geography Standards

  • Essential Element II: Places and Regions
    • Physical and human characteristics of places
  • Essential Element V: Environment and Society
    • Changes in meanings, use, distribution, and importance of resources

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

  • Thematic Strand III: People, Places, and Environment
    • Interactions of people with their surroundings
    • Benefits and problems resulting from the discovery and use of resources
    • Tools such as maps and geospatial technologies in investigating the relationships among people, places, and environments