Picking up trash seemed like the perfect way to spend spring break to a group of 13 Washburn students. It didn’t hurt that the trash was on beaches in South Padre Island, Texas, and the work helped protect a critically endangered species of sea turtle.
Judy Scherff, an adjunct instructor in biology, and 11 members of the Washburn Saves Sea Turtles club traveled to South Padre to work directly with Sea Turtle Inc. The organization is focused on preservation of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.
“People don’t know how many species are standing on the edge of the planet ready to fall off, metaphorically,” Scherff said. “It’s an honor for me to be involved in trying to save this turtle.”
Washburn students cleared beaches of debris left a week earlier by spring break visitors from Texas universities. Nesting season for the Kemp’s ridley turtle begins April 1 and without a clean beach, the odds would be even worse that an egg would become a turtle that makes it to the ocean.
As the eggs are laid, Sea Turtle Inc. carefully moves them to a special corral for their incubation period and releases the turtles after each is hatched, weighed and measured. The group works closely with a binational effort between the U.S. and Mexico to get as many of these turtles as possible to the sea.
The alternative spring break project — a first for Washburn — was open to any student who joined the sea turtle club. Scherff said they are all biology majors by coincidence. Rachel Beiker, a junior from Rossville, was part of the sea turtle club, which left March 14 and returned March 23.
“My hope is these 13 people will all have a love affair that has begun with the turtles and that their experience will be such that the trips will continue,” said Scherff, who teaches courses in the human impact on the environment. “It’s so important for land-locked universities to make a connection to the sea. I’m so glad Washburn has made that connection.”
Students chronicled their work on Twitter under the handle @WUSeaTurtles.
Two mass-media students, Michael Goehring of Silver Lake and Linnzi Fusco, traveled to Texas on their own to film the work of the Washburn Sea Turtle club and Sea Turtle Inc. and will produce a documentary after returning to Texas in June for the release of the turtles into the ocean.
“No matter what happens, it’s going to be a really great experience,” Goehring said. “It’s going to be cool to be sharing the experience with the biology department.”
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — The new city manager here is ready for a big change from his previous job in Rhode Island.
“I’ll have to get used to warm weather,” said William DiLibero, 56, who will assume his new post as city manager on Tuesday.
DiLibero had been town administrator in Charleston, R.I., and town manager of Hopkinton, R.I., with about three years in each town.
“I think it was 18 degrees this morning,” he said Thursday. “Spring has come but spring hasn’t come. We had snow yesterday, so I’m really looking forward to some nice weather.”
DiLibero, a native of Milford, Mass., earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Worcester State College and a master’s degree in environmental policy at Clark University, both in Worcester, Mass. He later earned a second master’s degree in urban and regional planning at the University of Miami, and, in 1991, a law degree from New England School of Law in Boston.
DiLibero said his son is studying industrial design in California and his daughter will graduate from high school next year in Rhode Island. He had been applying for positions in Florida, California, Texas and Arizona, where the weather is a little warmer, he said.
In 1982 he worked on farming projects in Costa Rica for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I like the Latin culture and used to be fluent in Spanish,” he said. “I’m hoping to get that back fairly quickly.”
He said his wife is a marketing director for a technology firm so she’s able to work from home. Once their daughter begins college, his wife will join him here.
While there are some dramatic differences between the Islands — Rhode and South Padre — there are some similarities.
“I think some of the similarities that made me of interest to the City Council was that the last community I managed in Rhode Island was a tourist community,” DiLibero said. “So I was familiar with dealing with businesses that were trying to make it through a tourist season. Our tourist season was much shorter than South Padre’s tourist season.”
He also knows how to deal with natural disasters like Hurricane Dolly that hit the Rio Grande Valley in 2008. After Hurricane Sandy hit New England in October 2012, he helped business owners in the coastal town of Westerly, R.I., get back on their feet.
“I have done a lot of permitting work,” he said. “I went in to serve as a zoning official to issue zoning certificates for four months to help people get back in operation after the storm. There were many buildings that were damaged by the storm that needed to be rebuilt, so I was making sure that their proposal was in conformance with the local zoning ordinances.”
Another similarity is dealing with beach erosion. The beaches where he lived in Rhode Island are on the open Atlantic Ocean while South Padre is a barrier island.
“We did a dredging project while I was there, and the dredge materials we used to renourish the beach,” he said.
During his visit with city officials here, he visited the beach.
“It looks like there’s a need to do some sort of nourishment there,” he said.
He said dredge material from the ship channel could be used to renourish the beach at South Padre Island.
“If you’re dredging the channel, it makes sense to put the material somewhere where it replenishes the beach,” he said.
One big difference between his previous job and the work he’ll do here is the lack of collective bargaining.
“I spent a lot of time negotiating union contracts in Rhode Island, and pretty much every police, fire, clerical staff, even some of the department heads,” he said of negotiations between the towns and their employees.
The government structures are different here from his experience in Rhode Island.
Charlestown, he said, doesn’t have a mayor.
“We had a town council, and there was a town council president, so you know it was similar that the town council president had the figurehead role, that the mayor has out on South Padre,” he said. “Likewise, it really depends on the council. You try and have a council that pretty much agrees on things. It works best when the councils work well together.”
He said South Padre Island seems like a smaller, more tight-knit community and he looks forward to helping improve the quality of life for its year-round residents.
“There’s the old city hall and there’s been discussion of turning that into a senior or community center,” he said. “I’d like to bring in some music programs or some art programs.”
He also said he’d like to develop some exercise programs for Island residents.
He likes the way a city manager can work directly with people.
“I like managing staff,” he said. “I think it’s a place where you can be most effective in government,” he said. “People can come directly to your door and come in and visit you, and it’s a hands-on job.”