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Assiniboine student from Brazil helping to save the Western painted turtle

Assiniboine student from Brazil helping to save the Western painted turtle

Written On: 10 September, 2018
Category: Agriculture International Student Spotlight Victoria Avenue East Campus
Related programs:  Land & Water Management

Mabel Caldeira Passos de Figueiredo came to Assiniboine Community College from Brazil to take Environmental Technologies: Land & Water Management specialization.

Some Western painted turtles may owe their lives to Mabel Caldeira Passos de Figueiredo.

She won the Best in Show award at the college’s annual Showcase of Applied Research and Innovation for her project to protect the breeding grounds of the turtle in the Boissevain area, south of Brandon.

The Western painted turtle is not yet on the endangered list, but a recent report saying their numbers are declining by 10 per cent shows their survival is a long-term concern, Figueiredo said. 

“Why don’t we start a prevention program before they are endangered? All painted turtles have a unique pattern. The design on their shell is like a fingerprint. It is the only time you will see that drawing,” she said.

They act as a food source for other animals, while their shells absorb phosphorous from the water system, reducing potential harm to other animals. 

Mother turtles lay their eggs in nests in sandy areas, away from trees. The hatchlings stay in the nest for a year, reaching maturity, and leave the nest the following spring.

Figueiredo’s research showed that protecting the nests with small metal frames helped reduce the loss of eggs and hatchlings to coyotes, racoons and other predators, while open canopies allow the sun to keep the hatchlings warm through winter.

In Brazil, Figueiredo was an occupational health and safety technician, first for Fugro, an offshore survey company, and then for Transocean, a deep-water drilling company.

But when global oil prices plunged, “I decided this is the perfect time for me to realize my dream of studying abroad. I put all my chips on coming here to Canada to study.”

She chose Assiniboine “because of the courses. All the other places I searched for environmental courses were too generic. Assiniboine had land and water management. I didn’t want a random degree or diploma. I wanted something specific that would really go deeper in some form of knowledge.”

Figueiredo praised the instructors at Assiniboine for taking a genuine interest in her education and career. 

“They go above and beyond to make sure you understand the subjects.” 

When two of her instructors started talking about how much the drone business is growing, Figueiredo took and graduated from the course required to become a pilot of what are formally known as unmanned aviation vehicles (UAVs.)

“I will be able to fly a drone professionally for photography, thermography, crop inspection. This was only in my life because of Assiniboine. I never thought about using drones before that,” she said.

She advises prospective students from outside Canada to bring more money with them than the government advises. “Settling in a new country can be costly sometimes. It’s better to have some extra money.” 

Students should also try to get a part-time job during the school year to help build their Canadian resumé, she said. 

Her own career has taken a surprising and gratifying turn, thanks to the close connections Assiniboine instructors build and maintain with potential employers.

One instructor took her class on a field trip to a chemical plant in Brandon. Figueiredo took advantage of the opportunity to network and share some of her experience doing similar work in Brazil. She is now working for this company on a six-month contract as an Environmental Health and Safety Technician.

“I had these amazing instructors at ACC. How could I ever have had a chance of being noticed by my current employer, if I hadn’t gone on the field trip that day? Field trips were a chance to see real-life applications of my studies, and most importantly, opportunities to network with potential employers,” she said.

“Being an ACC student was essential for this opportunity to happen.”