Why I Let My Four Year Old See a Dead Sea Turtle

turtle conservation kids

Nearing World Animal Day, we couldn’t have had a more stunning wildlife experience during our holiday on Moreton Bay. We touched star fish, saw sea birds’ aplenty, fed dolphins, and watched a dugong and a wild turtle up-close. But while out exploring wildlife, we came across a sight that was sad and startling for Miss Possum and I didn’t shield her eyes but instead helped to open them.

Use the experience

While on a four-wheel-drive trek down the beach, we noticed something in the sand. It was a dead sea turtle. We told Miss Possum what it was and I could see the questions in her eyes. I could have pretended we didn’t see it, or glossed over it like it wasn’t a big deal.  But it was a big deal. It’s not a nice sight to see a dead turtle on the beach.

We’d listened to an eco talk  the previous day and had learnt that over 80 turtles wash up dead on that stretch of beach each year because they consumed some kind of rubbish. So, I did what most mums probably wouldn’t do. We stopped the car, got out and took a closer look.

Discussing the dead

I asked Miss Possum why she thought the turtle had died. She didn’t know.  I told her that the turtle could have been old and died naturally but it also could have died because it may have eaten rubbish. I explained that our plastic bags look just like jelly fish and so the turtles eat them. I asked her what she thought would happen to a turtle if he ate a plastic bag. She knew he would get very sick or die.

dead sea turtle beach

Initiating the action

Just talking to Miss Possum about the dead sea turtle made her think. She turned to me and said ‘Mummy, we need to pick up rubbish to save the turtles’.  I was so proud that she initiated the action herself, but even if she hadn’t, I probably would have helped her toward that conclusion with prompting questions.

So we started to pick up rubbish. Miss Possum would shout ‘Rubbish!’ and we’d all have to go and collect it. We ended up with a big bag filled with bottles, netting and plastic bags.

Children can turn something negative into a positive quite easily. Each parent needs to make their own decisions based on what they think their child can handle, but I believe that it’s important we don’t hide the truth from children, that we are honest whilst still being sensitive to the child’s feelings.

I’m so glad we stopped the car. The scene may not have been very pleasant but it ended with Miss Possum learning empathy, compassion and creating change to save other turtles from the same fate. It has also lasted longer than the holiday too. She still points to rubbish and we pick it up.


*This post is dedicated to our World Animal Day blog hop and it’s a reminder that we can make a difference and we can encourage our children to make a difference too.

World animal day


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  1. says

    What a beautiful action on your daughter’s behalf. It’s amazing that their understanding transcends what we sometimes believe them capable of. She will surely grow up with a good understanding and a love of nature, with all it’s facets. Thanks for sharing the real. Lovely post.

    • pawhitehouse says

      Thanks so much Bek. That’s exactly what I was trying to say. They really are more capable than we expect sometimes. I am very proud of Miss Possum.

  2. says

    This is a fantastic post and a wonderful lesson to parents and children alike. You Miss Possum and my eldest would get along famously. He likes to clean up the park for the birds. Thanks for sharing. It did bring a tear to my eye too…

    • pawhitehouse says

      I know, I’m not a huge fan of negative posts because sometimes it switches people off but I honestly think it’s important not only to share the love of animals with children but to help them make decisions that help create change for animals. How else will we save them?

  3. Ali says

    You are right when you say kids can turn a negative into a positive. All those emotions then being channeled into something proactive like picking up rubbish is awesome. I think I probably would not have stopped for fear of creating nightmares but you really empowered your daughter with truth and then action.

  4. says

    Oh, this is just such a lovely post! You made me reassess how i would approach a situation like this if faced with it. You must have been just so proud of your little girl…what a warrior! Thanks for sharing such an emotional and important post x

    • pawhitehouse says

      Why thank you Emmie, Em. And THANK YOU for being my editior and skimmer for all things a little more controversial!

  5. says

    Well done on using this experience as a way to explore these issues. And how wonderful that your daughter came to the idea of picking up the rubbish like she did. Kids seem very sympathetic to the environment I’ve noticed. My son gets upset when he sees rubbish on our walks, so we try to pick some up.

    • pawhitehouse says

      That’s so wonderful Kelly. Just a little activity like that can make a life-long chnage to a child’s perception of the environment around him. Hopefully our children will be more inclined to help the environment then pollute it. Thanks so much for dropping by!

  6. kirri says

    We went to Australia Zoo yesterday and were fortunate enough to be part of a show and filming for the Irwin’s latest ‘Wildlife Warrior’ TV series. What was magical for me was the way Bindi Irwin has plainly inherited so much of hers late dad’s passion, knowledge and wildlife activism – It really touched me and this is what springs to mind when I read your blog Pen. I think it’s truly beautiful and I’m always learning from you and Miss Possum xx

    • pawhitehouse says

      Nawww thanks so much Kirri. You are such a sweetie. How did you score that job? That must have been so exciting for you and your family.

  7. Angelique Felix says

    What an outstanding post!!!!

    Thanks you for your participation at the World Animal Day Bloghop

  8. says

    Fantastic post, as always Penny. I would have stopped too- I remember as a child seeing dead wombats on the side of the road near our farm, and as grotesque as it sounds, poking them with a stick. My parents explained that no doubt the wombats would have been hit by cars, that they tended to be hit on dusk where if someone was driving too fast they wouldn’t see the flash of grey coming out of the shrub. Death is a part of the every day world, and if you can explain it to your children somewhat clinically without emotion then they can apply their own logic to death and causes as your beautiful girl did. I also had to giggle about you chasing rubbish down the beach- I do the same thing!

  9. says

    This was a wonderful post- what a great way to be proactive. Our children will only learn to respect animals and nature through the actions of their parents. Instead of teaching her to look away you taught her a lesson that will last her life. wonderful!

  10. Melanie says

    Some things may be hard to look but neccessary. life and death are a reality that is hard for children to comprehend sometimes talking about how we treat the earth and animals is just not enough.

  11. says

    I love this post and I love the way you are raising your children. My husband saw some elephant carcasses that had been poached for ivory as a young boy. That image has stayed with him to this day and has had a huge influence on his career in wildlife conservation.

    • Penny says

      I couldn’t even imagine seeing an elephant carcass. It would have been horrible. I’ll be moving my blog soon (just redirecting) and as part of that move I’ll be adding more action options to the site. I want people to share wildlife appreciation with thier children but I want to create action too. I’m certain you’ll be a wonderful supporter of the addition and I’ll be so excited to share it with you!

  12. Penny says

    Thanks so much Lisa! She really did impress me that day. It just shoes that what I’m teaching isn’t all just superficial fun but that she wants to act to help save wildlife too. Thank so much for sharing. I adore your pink elephant header on your blog. Too cute!


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