A Stitch in Time Saves Nine (or more) Turtles:
Pembroke Pines Teenager Knits for Conservation

While most high school seniors spent the fall and winter sweating over their college admission essays, Pembroke Pines High School senior Savannah Bergeron polished hers off quickly. Then she got back to her passion of the last two years — creating hand-knitted turtles to raise money and awareness to conserve Florida’s wide variety of native turtles.

Florida has 26 species of turtles, more than any other state, including all five of the world’s endangered sea turtle species. The Sunshine State is also home to the gopher tortoise, an ancient race whose ancestors appeared in the western United States 60 million years ago.

Despite an almost complete ban on commercial turtle harvesting, Florida’s turtle populations, as elsewhere, continue to decline due to habitat loss and a thriving black market for turtle meat and shells. Many of Florida’s turtles are now threatened or endangered.

Savannah Bergeron wanted to bring attention to this situation and find a way to do something about it. In 2017, she began knitting and selling toy turtles to raise money for turtle conservation. To date, she has raised and donated $2,268 to the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida (FWFF) for turtle and tortoise conservation. She comes by her passion naturally; her great-great-grandfather was one of the first Everglades park rangers, and her grandfather is a commissioner of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

We caught up with Savannah, who will attend the University of Florida in the fall, to learn more about her, what motivates her, and how she inspires others.

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FWFF: Savannah, the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida is really grateful to you for your efforts to help save Florida’s turtles and tortoises. Tell us a little about yourself.

SB: I’m 18 years old, a senior in high school and live with my parents and little brother in Pembroke Pines, Florida. I love science, as well as all the people I’m around. I volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and am a member of Cappies [an international program for high school journalism and theater], and the English, history, math, and science honor societies at my school, as well as the National Honor Society. I also run cross country and track and field.

FWFF: Wow! You must also be an expert at time management! Does that leave you any time to unwind?

SB: I’ve been playing piano since 1st grade, and it still makes me happy to just play. I also enjoy running quite a bit, as I’m a distance runner for my school and spend a lot of time out on the track. Both piano and running help me to relax and unwind. Of course, I also enjoy knitting, which is why I decided to knit stuffed animals for the Foundation.

FWFF: We’ll come back to your knitting in a moment. What about favorite sports beyond running, books and movies?

SB: My favorite sport to watch is basketball. I love going to see the games at my school; everyone is always so energetic, and the game is so fast-paced. My favorite books are Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Waste Land and Other Poems by T. S. Eliot. My favorite movie is Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back. Although I love the other Star Wars movies, I think Empire is the strongest of the bunch. To me, everything from the score to the cinematography and dialogue is just a joy to watch. My favorite TV show is Stranger Things. I love sci-fi and classic movies, so a show that draws so heavily on the classics was bound to be one of my favorites.

FWFF: So you’ve been raising money for turtle and tortoise conservation for two years now. Please tell us about your knitting project and fundraising.

SB: I’m raising money by selling hand-knitted turtles because I love Florida’s wildlife and want as many people as possible to experience the natural beauty of Florida. As a sixth-generation Floridian, I’ve always loved seeing all that Florida has to offer, and I really wanted to do something to help preserve that, so I decided to start knitting stuffed turtles and selling them, first to my friends and family, with all proceeds going to the Foundation. I decided to knit that animal specifically because turtles are one of Florida’s icon animals, and many species of the turtles we have in Florida are endangered.

FWFF: It’s really been a wonderful project that has inspired a number of people, which is one reason we wanted more people to become aware of what you’ve done, via this interview. It shows that everyone can find a way to make good things happen for issues they care about. What advice would you give other young – and older — people who want make a difference?

SB: I’d probably tell people that little actions matter the most. As trite as that sounds, I think anyone’s small good deed or random act of kindness can make a big difference. If enough people do little things, that’ll add up to a big thing. I know most people, including myself, can’t go participate in elaborate service projects, but everyone can do at least one small thing for something they’re passionate about.

FWFF: What has most inspired your peers to get involved?

SB: It’s the education aspect of this. If someone has never been to or learned about the Everglades, he or she will not care as deeply about protecting it, or maybe at all. You can’t inspire someone to get involved if they have no stake in the matter, so making sure my peers know just how unique and how important Florida’s wildlife is to everyone is the first step in getting more people involved. I also hope to show that the actions of one person can make at least a little difference. If the people around me see that what I’ve been able to accomplish by spending a few hours a week knitting, then maybe they’ll decide it’s not too terribly difficult for to get involved with something they’re passionate about.

FWFF: What’s been the best part of this experience so far?

SB: The best part of this experience is the people I’ve gotten to meet and interact with because of my project. At FWC meetings, I’ve met so many people passionate about Florida’s wildlife, from a ten-year-old girl who goes to nearly all the meetings to speak about protecting certain species of birds to a grandfather who just wanted to be able to go fishing with his grandkids. I’ve also been able to meet many scientists who work for FWC, and since I want to be a scientist one day, it is fascinating to hear all about the research they are doing.

FWFF: Have you had a chance yet to spend time in the field with wildlife biologists?

SB: I’ve never been out in the field with scientists while they’re performing research, but this summer I may intern at Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Collaborative Research. Last summer I took a course called “Ecological Paleontology,” or paleoecology, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN which focused on the ecosystems of long ago, and I really enjoyed learning about that.

FWFF: What place or country would you like to visit most?

SB: I haven’t been out of the United States yet, and I’d like to travel abroad someday. I really want to see the Cotswolds region of England, which I think are absolutely gorgeous. I’d also like to see Hawaii one day, but, then again, who wouldn’t?

FWFF: You mentioned your interest in becoming a scientist. Are you thinking about a particular discipline at this point?

SB: I’d like to work in medical research or maybe become a doctor. I know I definitely want to stay in the sciences, particularly molecular biology or even biochemistry.

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You can get one of Savannah’s turtles and help save Florida’s turtles and habitats by making a donation of $15 or more to the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida at https://www.fishwildlifeflorida.org/savannah-bergeron-turtle-fund/.

Contact Breanne Strepina at bstrepina@wildlifeflorida.org