Trailblazing Fifth-Grader Encourages Endangered Species Awareness

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Sag Harbor Elementary School 5th Grader Sabrina McManus holds one of her Endangered Animal Disks - in this case a Vaquita - in front of the school on Wednesday, 4/17/19. Michael Heller photo

Whenever you take a walk on a Southampton Town Trails Preservation Society or Long Pond Greenbelt trail this spring or summer, don’t forget to take your eyes off the natural beauty surrounding you and look down at the ground here and there. Otherwise, you might miss something — specifically, Sabrina McManus’s colorful plaster-and-resin discs featuring endangered animal images, which she’s hidden along the trails for people to find, pick up and keep.

As part of her “Look to Save Animals” project, Sabrina, 10, a fifth-grader at Sag Harbor Elementary School, is encouraging awareness of endangered species through a fun game of hide-and-seek.

“I’ve always loved animals. I’ve been concerned about them,” she said. “Our assignment in class was to write to a politician about something that’s important to you, so I wrote about vernal pools and how important they are. After that, I wanted to do something more.”

She chose to write to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., explaining that vernal pools are important seasonal wetlands habitats. It gave her the idea for Look to Save Animals, which is not a class project, she emphasized. But she did present the project to all of her fellow students at Sag Harbor Elementary School during a recent morning program, where they serenaded her with a song called “What One Little Person Can Do to Help This World.”

“All I can say is ‘impressive,’” school principal Matt Malone said. “Sabrina has put in a lot of effort and shown how much she cares for the environment.”

Sabrina is making each disc by hand with help from her father, Gil McManus, who knows how to make surfboards. Each type of disc has an image and information about an animal particularly close to Sabrina’s heart: the tiger salamander, the vaquita, the humpback whale, the shortnose sturgeon and the leatherback sea turtle. And each disc has a number, which its finder can use to register the disc online at Sabrina’s website, looktosaveanimals.com.

Her love for science and animals is evident. She has a pet rabbit, named “Amelia” for Amelia Earhart, and she chose to be Marie Curie in the fifth grade’s annual “wax museum” show this year. Ask her what she thinks about doing as a career someday, and Sabrina has an immediate answer: “environmental lawyer.”

“She’s bigger than life. She always has been,” said her mother, Kate McManus. “When we think of her future, we can never just think about one thing. We know there’s greatness in her future.”

Along the way, Sabrina has put in a lot of time, effort and trial-and-error into “Look to Save Animals.” She’s received advice from the South Fork Natural History Museum, and has hidden dozens of discs along multiple trails in Sag Harbor and Southampton, each within three feet of a trail.

“These discs have been really fun to hide, so I think they will be even more fun to find,” Sabrina said, but cautioned, “I don’t want you disturbing any nature to find discs.”

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